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Federal government barring humorous highway signs

Jan 15

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Humorous signs warning drivers to stay focused and drive safely have taken over U.S. highways. But state transportation departments must stop trying to catch drivers’ attention with puns or pop culture references, as new guidance from the federal government is set to go into effect in 2026.

In a 1,100-page manual released in December, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration said the signs must go, adding that they could be hard to understand, leading to what many hope to deter — distracted driving. The Department of Transportation in New Jersey had already warned drivers to stop taking pictures of the humorous signs or it would stop using them.

The new guidance says signs should be brief, simple and should only be used to warn drivers of crashes, bad weather and traffic delays.

“​​Messages with obscure or secondary meanings, such as those with popular culture references, unconventional sign legend syntax or that are intended to be humorous, should not be used as they might be misunderstood or understood only by a limited segment of road users and require greater time to process and understand,” according to the manual.

The manual also allows signs about wearing seatbelts and driving sober.

However, not everyone is happy about this new guidance, particularly in Arizona, where officials have asked the public for clever sign ideas in a competition that drew 3,700 submissions in 2023.

Arizona Rep. David Cook, R, told the local CBS affiliate this is an example of the federal government overstepping.

“The humor part of it, we kind of like, I think in Arizona the majority of us do if not all of us,” Cook said. “And so we don’t understand, why are you trying to have the federal government come in and tell us what we can do in our own state?”

Despite the pushback, states have two years to comply with the newly released guidance by the Federal Department of Transportation. So, drivers will need to get ready to say “Bye Bye Bye” to signs with pop culture references during their commutes.

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[KARAH RUCKER]

“HOCUS POCUS, DRIVE WITH FOCUS”

“USE YA, BLINKAH.”

“HANDS ON THE WHEEL, NOT YOUR MEAL.”

“DON’T DRIVE STAR SPANGLED HAMMERED.”

SIGNS LIKE THESE HAVE TAKEN OVER U.S. HIGHWAYS.

STATE TRANSPORTATION DEPARTMENTS OUTDOING ONE ANOTHER TO CATCH YOUR ATTENTION WITH PUNS OR POP CULTURE REFERENCES AS REMINDERS TO DRIVE SAFELY.

BUT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT IS PUTTING AN END TO THE PUNNY COMPETITION.

IN AN 1,100 PAGE MANUAL RELEASED IN DECEMBER, THE U.S. FEDERAL HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION SAID THE SIGNS MUST GO.

ADDING THAT THEY COULD BE HARD TO UNDERSTAND AND LEAD TO WHAT MANY OF THEM HOPE TO DETER: DISTRACTED DRIVING.

THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION IN NEW JERSEY WARNING DRIVERS TO STOP TAKING PICTURES OF THE HUMOROUS SIGNS OR IT WOULD GO BACK TO THE OLD MESSAGES.

THE NEW GUIDANCE IS SIGNS SHOULD BE BRIEF, SIMPLE,AND ONLY BE USED TO WARN DRIVERS OF CRASHES AHEAD, BAD WEATHER, AND TRAFFIC DELAYS. 

“​​Messages with obscure or secondary meanings, such as those with popular culture references, unconventional sign legend syntax, or that are intended to be humorous, should not be used as they might be misunderstood or understood only by a limited segment of road users and require greater time to process and understand.”

THE MANUAL ALSO ALLOWS FOR SIGNS ABOUT WEARING SEATBELTS AND DRIVING SOBER.

BUT NOT EVERYONE IS HAPPY ABOUT THIS NEW GUIDANCE, PARTICULARLY IN ARIZONA, WHERE OFFICIALS ASK THE PUBLIC FOR CLEVER SIGN IDEAS 

A COMPETITION THAT DREW 3,700 SUBMISSIONS IN 2023.

REPUBLICAN STATE REPRESENTATIVE DAVID COOK TELLING LOCAL CBS AFFILIATE THAT THIS IS AN EXAMPLE OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OVERSTEPPING.

Arizona Rep. David Cook (R): “THE HUMOR PART OF IT, WE KIND OF LIKE, I THINK IN ARIZONA THE MAJORITY OF US DO, IF NOT ALL OF US. AND SO WE DON’T UNDERSTAND, WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO HAVE THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT COME IN AND TELL US WHAT WE CAN DO IN OUR OWN STATE.”

DESPITE THAT STATES WILL HAVE TWO YEARS TO COMPLY WITH THE NEWLY RELEASED GUIDANCE PUT OUT BY THE FEDERAL HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION.

SO, AS YOU DRIVE DOWN THE HIGHWAY GET READY TO SAY BYE. BYE. BYE. TO THOSE POP CULTURE REFERENCES AND PUNS WE HAVE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO SEEING ON OUR COMMUTES.