Mississippi is known to display humorous messages on electronic signs towering over major highways and interstates, especially during the holidays, but that will soon come to an end.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has rolled out a new rule in its recently released manual that will prohibit states from utilizing witty messages or references to pop culture on electronic overhead road signs over accusations that they can be confusing and even cause drivers to be distracted.
During an interview with SuperTalk Mississippi News, Mississippi Department of Transportation Executive Director Brad White contended that while the messages displayed may be comical, he believes the state does a good job of also making them informative.
White’s belief that the state’s transportation officials have done an exceptional job of conveying worthwhile content that happens to be lighthearted is rooted in the fact that he has yet to receive a complaint from the federal level about Mississippi’s clever sign campaigns.
“From the beginning, we knew that they’re supposed to be tied in with safety and other aspects like that to make them acceptable,” White said. “We’ve tried to do a good job in Mississippi of hitting that right balance of having something that’s clever enough, and hopefully funny enough, that people take notice, pay attention, see the message, and think about the message without getting ridiculous about it.”
One example of a humorous message intended to get a point across occurred in late 2018 with MDOT officials displaying, “Cousin Eddie says Twitter’s full. Put down the phone.” The message references a scene from “Christmas Vacation” where Cousin Eddie is emptying out the black water tank of his RV and dumping it into the sewer. A neighbor sees him, and he says, “S***er’s full.”
MDOT’s intended objective was to remind Mississippians of the dangers of using their phones to text, scroll through social media, etc. while operating a motor vehicle while also providing a laugh or two during the Christmas holiday season.
Though White has yet to hear a complaint from federal higher-ups, he does not find this hill to be one worth dying on and plans to comply with any future regulations while also looking to pursue a middle ground to keep the existing model in place if possible.
“I certainly will not do anything that would put our federal money at risk, so we will comply to the extent that we have to,” White said. “We will have conversations and if it comes down to it, we will try to find out if there is a way to maintain what we have been doing. We’ve received no complaints from the feds about any of the messages we’ve utilized.”
The FWHA’s ruling will not go into effect for another two years. So until then, Mississippians can keep enjoying comical messages displayed while traveling on major roadways.
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