Since 2019, Ohio Has Solicited Highway Safety Sign Message Suggestions From the Public. It's Gotten More Than 4,300

Boy, do Ohioans want their fellow drivers to stay out of the left lane

click to enlarge A sampling of recent highway safety signs - ODOT
A sampling of recent highway safety signs

There was as fair bit of consternation and confusion recently as the Federal Highway Administration, in an update to its thousand-page manual governing traffic signs across the country, recommended against using puns and jokes in safety sign messaging.

ODOT and transportation agencies in other states had in recent years dove headlong into clever and funny dispatches on electronic signs dotting Ohio's highways and byways to drive home common-sense practices — buckle up, drive sober, etc.

Matt Bruning, an ODOT press secretary, told Scene that Ohioans should pump the breaks on fears that the updated regulations will mean the end of Easter puns and Christmas references.

"The update basically says when you're posting stuff, it needs to be clear and concise and widely understood," he told Scene. "For instance, with pop culture references, if you say, 'Life is Fra-gee-lay,' if you didn't see A Christmas Story, you have no idea what it means."

But, in another recent example, signs in Columbus that reminded drivers to "Buckle up your Crew" deployed during the MLS Cup would work, since if you know the soccer team, you get the extra reference, and if you don't, you still get the message.

So ODOT will still have fun with signage and, as it has since 2019, will continue to accept submissions from Ohioans through a public portal, which has proved popular: Four-plus years since the rollout, the state has received more than 4,300 submissions, according to documents  obtained via a public records request. (The sample message at the top of the story is but one example.)

Bruning said it's not infrequent that submissions end up getting used, though it's far more common for a submission to be tweaked by the committee that crafts and finalizes messages and the submitter credited with inspiring the post. (ODOT will alert you in both cases.)

Submissions come in ebbs and flows, he said. Holidays and occasions when ODOT is in the news tend to bring upswings.

"This week, I have one," he said. "Last week, I had three. But when these stories were kicking around that we were going to get banned from posting messages, we got a robust response. Ahead of some of the holidays, we'll throw out a call on socal media, and we'll get an influx."

Engaging the public in the process, Bruning said, is another layer of disseminating safety messaging.

"The whole idea here is we're not breaking new ground," he said. "We're telling people to do the things they know they should be doing. And the goal is to have these conversations occur. And certainly, if someone submits an idea and it gets used, they're going to talk about it with their friends."

Some obvious trends emerge from the 4,300 submissions. Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas-themed suggestions dominate the group, but as far as themes on specific topics go, Ohioans appear to most simply want their fellow drivers to stay out of the left lane if they're not passing and use their turn signals when they should.

That tracks with what Bruning and his coworkers see.

"Some of the most popular messaging we do is things that play on pet peeves, like turn signals, headlights on when wipers are one, get out of the left lane," he said. "When we did, 'Camp in Ohio State Parks, Not the Left Lane,' it went nuts, people loved it. But there's a safety component to that. Someone's driving down the road, and they're trying to pass someone, and someone's loafing, your anger goes up, you're late, you're tailgating, you're driving more aggressively, that's when crashes occur. That's a safety component."

Submit your own idea to ODOT here.

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Vince Grzegorek

Vince Grzegorek has been with Scene since 2007 and editor-in-chief since 2012. He previously worked at Discount Drug Mart and Texas Roadhouse.
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