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Taking a look at safety messages on America’s roadways
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Taking a look at safety messages on America’s roadways

State transportation departments share what motorists can expect to see on interstate DMS

In 2013, Traffic and Safety Engineer for the Iowa Department of Transportation (Iowa DOT), Willy Sorenson, was asked by the then-Iowa DOT Director, Paul Trombino, to research which states were posting fatality counts on their Dynamic Message Signs (DMS).

Sorenson compiled the data but what ultimately followed the initial request was several rounds of expanded research and the reiteration of Sorenson’s firm belief that posting the same message each day results in motorists becoming desensitized to the underlying meaning of the messages, which is to promote safe driving.

Sorenson said he proposed a plan that would exclude the biggest annoyance of traffic engineers: continuously posting the same unoriginal message. He pitched his idea for a Message Monday program to Trombino, who suggested he work with staff members from Iowa DOT’s Office of Strategic Communications to draft a formal program outline. Iowa DOT communications specialist Tracey Bramble was looped into the planning stages as to what would soon grace the DMS along Iowa’s interstates.

Today, Bramble and Sorenson work to draft six-month chunks of messages to be posted in addition to the traffic fatality totals. The fatality counts from Friday are posted Monday morning and any deaths that occurred over the weekend are added to afternoon posts.

Out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to posting safety messages on interstate message boards isn’t just an occurrence along Iowa’s roadways. It just so happens the state’s successful Message Monday program has led to other transportation departments to implement similar programs to influence driver behavior and promote safe driving.

According to Sorenson, he and his team who work on the Message Monday program have spoken with roughly 30 states in regards to implementing more creative messaging and of those 30, Iowa DOT has shared their messages with about 20.

That being said, much of the U.S. abides by guidelines set forth in the MUTCD on Dynamic Message Signs (DMS), or Changeable Message Signs (CMS) as they are referred to in the guide, and adheres to direction provided by their corresponding FHWA division. Many states post messages supplied by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as part of the administration’s safety campaigns including “CLICK IT OR TICKET,” “DRIVE SOBER OR GET PULLED OVER” and “U DRIVE. U TEXT. U PAY.”

The safety messages, creative or NHTSA compliant, are posted in addition to posting real-time traffic information, such as crash notifications, and statewide alerts, like Amber Alerts.

A full list of responses regarding state DMS policies, safety messaging and traffic fatality count (year to date) posts that were gathered by state transportation department spokespersons or communication department representatives is available here.

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