Why Dynamic Message Indicators Confuse Many Drivers and Improve the Variety of AccidentsFrequent Enterprise Traveler

Why Dynamic Message Indicators Confuse Many Drivers and Improve the Variety of AccidentsFrequent Enterprise Traveler

Why Dynamic Message Indicators Confuse Many Drivers and Improve the Variety of AccidentsFrequent Enterprise Traveler

State and native freeway officers in the US love utilizing quirky humor, puns, jokes, and double entendres in what are formally referred to as variable message indicators, the digital indicators drivers see warning of an accident forward or highway closure. The Feds, not a lot.

Federal officers lately up to date the not-very-often-updated Handbook on Uniform Site visitors Management Gadgets (the final model of the guide was the 2009 version though there have been updates within the interim interval) and the nation’s highway signal directors took the chance to warn state and native companies comparable to Caltrans, or the California Division of Transportation; the New York Metropolis and New York State Departments of Transportation; DoTH, or the Cook dinner County Division of Transportation and Highways; and the Houston County Bridge Division; amongst others, that messages “with obscure or secondary meanings, comparable to these with standard tradition references or these which might be “supposed to be humorous” shouldn’t be used on nation’s digital signage.

The brand new requirements are usually not an outright ban on light-hearted humor on freeway indicators, the Federal Freeway Administration mentioned final week in an announcement, nevertheless it recommends that officers keep away from posting messages “that will confuse or distract drivers.”

These indicators could also be extra harmful than the drivers beneath them.

In reality, the company went as far as to say that native jurisdictions ought to “use good judgement” in line with the long-standing ideas that for freeway indicators “[to] fulfill a necessity; command consideration; convey a transparent, easy message; command respect; and supply sufficient time for correct response.”

It’s vital to consider freeway transportation as a system that features the roadway, the site visitors management units, the automobile, and the driving force.

The communication between the roadway and the driving force is supplied by site visitors indicators and pavement markings. Static signal can do an excellent job of conveying a message to the driving force a few static scenario, however, some 50 years in the past, some ahead considering people envisioned indicators that have been fluid and changeable.

A cease signal is just 4 letters, but it’s universally understood, even with the writer standing subsequent to it.


Within the early Seventies, the world was a lot much less digital than it’s right now. What was then known as a “changeable-message” signal was solely an idea and the Freeway Analysis Board Committee on Site visitors Management Gadgets sponsored a convention in July 1971 that introduced collectively these concerned within the analysis, growth, manufacture, advertising, and operation of the varied forms of changeable-message indicators.

The objectives have been easy: to allow site visitors engineers to train extra flexibility in offering data, warning, and regulatory messages to motorists as circumstances change. It might be stating the apparent to say that the aptitude of static-sign assemblies in offering data wanted at a particular second in time was moderately restricted.

Whereas the considering was admirable, the answer that resulted opened a Pandora’s field by way of potential driver distraction.

Certainly, it seems that all of those site visitors indicators – foolish or in any other case – might have a detrimental impact on site visitors security by needlessly inflicting as a lot distraction as a driver trying down on his smartphone, making use of make-up, shaving, or making an attempt to separate a number of youngsters – his or borrowed for the event – who’re combating within the rear seats.

Should we distract drivers with 40+ characters of climate forecast for the approaching days?

Primarily based on new analysis, complying with the ideas promulgated final month by the Federal Freeway Administration would possibly finest be completed by urgent the “off” button on most of the indicators.

.A research printed in 2022 carried out by Jonathan Corridor, an assistant professor at College of Toronto Transportation Analysis Institute and Joshua Madsen, an affiliate professor on the Carlson Faculty of Administration on the College of Minnesota, means that dynamic message indicators confuse or perplex many drivers and improve the variety of accidents.

“Let me take a second to learn all of the indicators… ach du Scheiße, is everybody okay?”

One other limitation that the late-night comedy writers of variable message indicators face is akin to the now former 144-character restrict when authoring a tweet.

In line with the New York State DOT, “most everlasting VMS can show three strains, with between 13 and 24 characters per line,” though the indicators which might be most prevalent within the Northeast show two strains with 24 characters per line, giving aspiring Rob Petries 48 characters to work with.

[Editor’s note: Rob Petrie is the name of the character portrayed by Dick Van Dyke in 1960s “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” where he was the head writer for the fictional “Alan Brady Show,” where he worked alongside writers Buddy Sorrell (portrayed by the “human joke machine” Morey Amsterdam) and Sally Rogers (comedienne Rose Marie).]


In designing freeway indicators, static or in any other case, it’s vital to grasp the idea of driver expectancy.

Driver expectancy pertains to the observable, measurable options of the driving surroundings which: 1.) improve a driver’s readiness to carry out a driving process in a selected method, and a pair of.) trigger the driving force to proceed within the process till it’s accomplished or interrupted.

It’s vital to grasp that Data Overload is rampant whereas driving a automobile on virtually any roadway.

The motive force seeks out data and providers which he thinks he wants; others, he tends to disregard.  Including extraneous and superfluous messages about sleighs and Xmas can solely serve to confuse the already overloaded driver.

Solely when the extreme adjustments or uncommon circumstances that require abrupt changes in maneuvering the automobile seem does the driving force require correct, well timed and a spotlight getting warnings.

The “Nice Fog” of 2023 solely required a 4-word 20-character message, seen right here from the northbound lanes of the the Throgs Neck Bridge.

A superb instance of such a scenario occurred on December 28, 2023, when 15 states issued “heavy fog” warnings. Variable-message indicators warned of “Heavy Fog” and informed drivers to “Scale back Velocity.” One other occurred on January 16, 2024, when 100 million folks in the US stay underneath windchill advisories and winter storm warnings and indicators have been programmed to warn of “Poor Driving Situations,” telling drivers to “Scale back Velocity.”

Whereas messages comparable to these reveal not solely the right and supposed use of variable-message signate but in addition will trigger minimal Data Overload, makes an attempt to efficiently show longer instructive or instructional messages proceed to elude the custodians of the indicators.  For months, drivers in New York State noticed a message that was supposed to tell drivers that, upon approaching the scene of an accident, the brand new New York State Transfer Over Legislation requires them to decelerate and transfer left one full lane (the identical goes for different stopped autos and roadway development crews, by the way) proceed to depart the driving force with the impression that he was approaching the scene of an accident and will transfer over.

After all, followers of the indicators  are crying “spoilsports.”  Many individuals like the lovable and infrequently humorous indicators, not realizing, after all, the harm they might inflict as a result of they divert the driving force’s consideration, particularly if the message is inscrutable to some.

The very last thing freeway engineers need is for a driverto must do a double take so as to comprehend an indication.


In Cellular, Alabama, humorous message often greets motorists heading into the Bankhead Tunnel.  One current message learn: “Undefeated since 1941,” a sly reference to measurement restrictions on the 83-year-old construction, one other learn “New 12 months Identical Top.”

The Rhode Island Division of Transportation is understood for this message: “Cats have 9 lives. You’ve 1. Drive Sober.”

Sure, the vacation spirit is alive and visual on freeway variable message indicators.

“Keep off the naughty record or Krampus will get you this vacation season.”

Many states have been using what’s in any other case clean area ready for a climate alert, Amber Alert, or accident warning to publish foolish non sequiturs on their digital highway indicators.

When you have been on the roads in the course of the current vacation season like 105 million different People, you might have encountered some variable message highway indicators that resulted in a double take. Evidently, when driving a automobile at freeway speeds, a double take is the very last thing that one would desire a driver to must do.

Certainly, the highway engineer slash late-night comedy writers appeared maybe to be working additional time across the Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas holidays.

“Drive Drunk and Xmas Be Sorry,” learn one. “Keep Off the Naughty Record. Obey Velocity Limits,” warned one other.

“However what’s a parkway? Wait, let me look that up…”

In December, on New York State highways resulting in parkways, the place no vans are allowed, indicators that previously acknowledged “Parkways Have Low Bridges. No Vehicles Allowed,” the indicators learn “Parkways Have Low Bridges. No Vehicles or Sleighs Allowed.” This signal turned out to be largely as a result of switch of Santa’s sleigh (from the film “Elf”) from its dwelling on the Halesite Fireplace Division in Huntington, New York, to the Bergdorf Goodman division retailer on Fifth Avenue in celebration of the film’s twentieth anniversary.

New Yorkers additionally have been knowledgeable {that a} “Designated Driver is the Finest NYE Date,” and in addition reminded a bit extra strongly that consuming and driving don’t combine, to wit: “Don’t Drink and Drive… Get a Experience.”

Texas drivers noticed “Solely Rudolph Ought to Drive Lit” and Arizonans have been witness to  “He Sees You When You’re Dashing,” borrowed from the hit vacation music “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to City.”

Arizona additionally had a particular message for New 12 months’s Day 2022: “New 12 months. New You. Use Your Blinker.”

Is your signal over the restrict? A research by the Nationwide Academies of Science concluded that such messages be restricted to 16 characters to make sure driver comprehension. This one is just 14 over the really helpful restrict – instances 2. Mies van der Rohe wouldn’t approve.

A minimum of one research does partially assist any such messaging: A 2020 research commissioned by the Virginia Division of Transportation discovered that “messages about distracted driving, messages that embody humor, and messages that use phrase play and rhymes rank excessive amongst a number of measures of effectiveness” in selling highway security.

The research’s authors, which embody the aptly named Tripp Shealy, an affiliate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, really helpful utilizing narrowly focused messages that use wordplay and rhyming, stating they have been simpler than those who depend on the driving force to grasp a pop-culture or sports activities reference.

There’s no query that intelligent messages can seize a driver’s consideration however they appear to seize an excessive amount of of it many instances. It’s intelligent to have the ability to point out at cocktail events how intelligent the “Use Yah Blinkah” signal was in Massachusetts or the Mississippi try and tie in to the success of the film “Barbie” was with the slogan “Be a Doll, Use Your Equipment at Dwelling,” however such messages include their very own set of issues.

The Nationwide Academies of Science 2022 research, Behavioral Site visitors Security Messaging on Variable Message Indicators, discovered {that a} “important proportion” of drivers failed to understand variable signal messages that included pop-culture, wit or humor, and really helpful that indicators not use humor and restrict messages to a most of 16 characters, one-ninth of the unique restrict on the scale of a tweet.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was one of the crucial influential architects of the 20 th century. For nearly a century, Mies’ minimalist type has continued to show extraordinarily standard; his well-known aphorism much less is extra remains to be cited and utilized by folks, even by those that are unaware of its origins.

Maybe we needs to be extra like Mies.

(Photographs: Accura Media Group)