Meet the Arkansas team encouraging highway safety with roadside humor

Special Reports

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – They can be serious, informative and funny, but whatever the message is, drivers are responding.

But have you ever wondered, who comes up with those catchy and clever phrases on digital road boards up and down Arkansas highways?

The Arkansas Department of Transportation’s Traffic Management Center, or TMC, is where anything and everything related to Arkansas roadways are monitored 24-7.

The team at the TMC can respond quickly, getting information out immediately to the public if there is an incident on the highway.

But when the roads are clear and traffic is running smoothly, the team still stays busy by posting non-traditional public safety announcements on message boards for all to see

“What we found is that when the message is novel, funny, emotional… it seems to have more of an impact,” ARDOT ITS engineer Joseph Hawkins explained.

The team has messages for just about any occasion. When a Hogs game is about to be played, drivers may see a note reading, “Tailgating is for football — not highways.”

On Star Wars Day, drivers saw “Trust the Force, but always buckle up.” and over the summer, “Camp in the Ozarks — not the left lane” was displayed.

Hawkins said some of the best feedback the team has gotten was from the note, “Drive like the person your dog thinks you are.”

Not all of the messages are created by TMC staff. Some are borrowed from other states. No matter what message is used, it must first meet certain guidelines.

Not all of them make the cut. A message that caused a bit of a stir in Utah read, “Keep your head out of your apps.”

“There’s been some that we’ve seen other DOTs use that we’re like, ‘No, that’s not what we’re going to do here,” Hawkins explained.

The non-traditional PSAs are only displayed on Mondays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. ARDOT officials say they don’t run the messages through the entire week because they don’t want the electronic signs to lose their effectiveness, which is primarily to inform drivers about something specific about what’s in front of them.

Still, whether serious or humorous, the goal remains the same.

“We’re trying to reduce the injury and fatalities that we have on our roadways,” Hawkins said.

It’s a job they are taking one message at a time.

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