Jan 22, 2024 - News

Funny highway signs pose safety risk, feds say

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

"Horns up, phones down, it can wait" could soon be a thing of the past as the Federal Highway Administration tries to phase out funny messaging on road signs.

  • Highway administration officials say this type of wording on the road could "adversely affect respect for the sign," writes Axios' Shauneen Miranda.

The big picture: Administration officials told KERA they recommend that states "avoid the use of humor and pop culture references in changeable message signs that may confuse or distract drivers," though they won't ban the funny messaging.

  • Officials say the messaging should be "simple, direct, brief, legible, and clear" as well as "relevant to the road user on the roadway on which the message is displayed."

Details: The administration says messaging with "obscure or secondary meanings," including pop culture references and humor relevant to a limited segment of drivers, could be misunderstood by some people and take extra time to process and understand their meaning.

Yes, but: The Texas Department of Transportation won't say if it will have to change their approach in response to the feds' new guidelines.

  • "Our message board signs along Texas highways are a great tool to show important safety information to drivers. Every message we post includes a safety component and we will continue to do that," the department told Axios in a statement.
A fun sign on Loop 410 in San Antonio. Photo: Madalyn Mendoza/Axios

What they're saying: "The safety of all road users is the priority," a spokesperson for the federal administration said in a statement to Axios last week.

  • The administration "supports the use of changeable message signs, which are operated by state transportation departments, in conjunction with traffic safety campaign[s]," the spokesperson said.

Zoom in: The Texas Department of Transportation held a contest in 2020 to find the "best and most creative safe-driving message."

  • Three messages won, including "Slow down, you're already in Texas."
  • "Our message board signs along Texas highways are a great tool to show important safety information to drivers. Every message we post includes a safety component and we will continue to do that," the TxDOT said in a statement last week.

What we're watching: Whether Texas and the feds will spar over highway signs if they disagree over their tone.

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