- Associated Press - Sunday, October 8, 2017

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Public service announcements on those electronic message boards along Missouri’s interstate highways are getting cheekier as time goes by.

The signs are mostly used to alert drivers to road closures, work zones and accidents, but since 2009 the Missouri Department of Transportation has also used them for reminders about safe driving.

At first, MoDOT stuck to the basics: Don’t drink and drive. Don’t litter.

But the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that every month, two traffic engineers and two communications specialist brainstorm new messages for the roughly 250 digital message boards across the state.

Among the recent: “Did you run out of blinker fluid?, “Eyes on the road: Head out of apps,” and “Camp in the Ozarks not in the left lane.”

A spike in traffic fatalities in 2014 prompted department leaders to reevaluate the boards, said Linda Wilson Horn, a MoDOT communications director who helps write the messages for the signs each month. The goal was to create attention-grabbers.

“Over 90 percent of crashes are attributed to human errors,” Horn said. “So we were struggling to get these numbers down, and had to somehow try to get people to be more conscientious.”

The messages are sometimes seasonal, like “Buckle Up. Drive safe. Love Mom,” for Mother’s Day. Or they comment on pop culture. When the newest Star Wars movie premiered, signs co-opted Darth Vader’s line: “I find your lack of seat belt disturbing.”

Missouri, Iowa and Massachusetts were early states to take creative license with message boards, but others recently joined in.

MoDOT is even taking suggestions from the public. Messages must be about a road safety topic and no more than three lines of up to 14 characters each.

Beyond audience suggestions, Horn said she gets inspiration from bumper stickers, and even friends who approach her at church or parties to share their own driving gripes.

Traffic fatalities are still on the rise in Missouri, but Horn is hopeful the signs will make a difference.

“If I can make a few drivers think twice about speeding or being on their phone, that’s really the point,” Horn said. “The goal is to make the roads safer.”


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, https://www.stltoday.com

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