El Paso Times
Published 12:09 PM EST Nov 29, 2019
AUSTIN — As drivers headed to Thanksgiving dinner across Texas last year, they might have let out a laugh upon reading a road sign.
“Gobble, Gobble Go Easy on the Throttle” was displayed on some of the digital signs used by the Texas Department of Transportation to promote safe driving habits to holiday travelers.
Millions of Texans are expected to take to the roads during Thanksgiving week alone, according to the American Automobile Association, and the funny slogans on the digital signs are a way to offer safety tips that make an impression.
The road signs are focused on saving lives, especially around the holidays and major Texas events, where traffic volume increases.
Information Specialist Mark Cross is one of the TxDOT employees who come up with those sometimes cheesy, sometimes punny messages that drivers see on Texas roads around the holidays and other events, like football games.
“Only Rudolph should drive lit,” stated one from around Christmas.
The messages might be humorous, but Cross said there’s a purpose behind them.
“If you throw something up there different, something a little relative, something a little subjective, something a little funny … or quirky, then we know we’re getting people’s attention,” Cross said recently, sitting at a conference table at the TxDOT building in Austin.
Cross, who has worked for the department for more than 25 years, said the creative signs started in 2018.
How are the messages selected?
The process to come up with new messages is informal and usually is done through an exchange of emails between colleagues, Cross said.
Before motorists hit the road for the holidays, staffers start brainstorming puns, jokes and other attention grabbing messages. Eventually, the pool is narrowed down to the best of the lot.
Traffic Operations, a division of TxDOT, gives approval before the messages can be used, Cross said.
This Thanksgiving week, drivers might be met with a reminder to “Feast Your Eyes on the Road” or to “Go Easy on the Throttle,” as they were last year.
There are several marks the perfect message must meet, Cross said. It can’t be too long or too distracting. Drivers only have a couple seconds to read it. Still, it can’t be boring.
There also has to be a real safety message, like a reminder to avoid distracted driving, slow down or to buckle up.
“We had to whittle them down to the short, the funny, the meaningful,” Cross said.
More than a laughing matter
In Texas, for nearly 20 years there hasn’t been a day without someone dying on state roads.
According to TxDOT, about 10 people have died each day in crashes. From 2014 to 2018, there were 251 fatalities during the Thanksgiving period.
“Don’t just laugh because you see a funny message up there,” Cross said. “Read in between the lines of what that message is saying and apply it to your driving behavior.
“At the end of the day, our goal is to end crashes and to end crash fatalities. That’s the ultimate goal for us.”
In the Lone Star State, the messages have caught drivers’ attention and have been the subject of social media posts.
“The new (TxDOT) I-35 signs are (fire emojis),” wrote one Twitter user, commenting on signs from the Red River Showdown, the annual game between the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Oklahoma.
“I don’t know who’s responsible for the messages on the digital road signs, but they never fail to crack me up,” stated another post from a Houston music store. The post was referring to Halloween-themed signs.
One, encouraging people not to drink and drive, reminded folks to “lay off the witches brew” and drive sober.
“Zero fatalities, a ghoul we can live with,” stated another.
A message won’t necessarily be produced for every holiday, but when one is crafted, it’s a chance to have some fun and tap into the employees’ creative side, Cross said.
“You get to create and then you get to see it implemented out on the roadways, and maybe see a phrase that you coined or that your colleague next to you coined,” he said. “You just hope that … it’s helping.”
A look at some of TxDOT’s past signs
Eleanor Dearman may be reached at 361-244-0047; email@example.com; @EllyDearman on Twitter.
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