States Turn to Electronic Signs for Critical Safety Messages

Tennessee DOT Message SignsIn communications, it is always best to deliver messages where the most critical audiences are most likely to see it. For a transportation agency, that means catching riders and drivers with the key message while they are act of using the system.

So, when you want to talk about traffic safety, where is the best place to deliver your message? On the road.

Tennessee Department of Transportation and a few others states have recently started using the electronic message signs to post fatality figures. Just a few years these electronic message boards were reserved for only the most urgent of traffic information – perhaps a lane closure, or travel time through a certain corridor. So, posting fatality numbers is certainly stepping out of the box.

Tennessee Transportation Commissioner John Schroer recently said, “It’s my hope that seeing the fatality numbers on a daily basis will help drivers make better decisions that can save lives … Whether it’s putting your phone down, watching your speed, buckling your seat belt, or choosing not to drive impaired, every single motorist can do their part to prevent more tragedies on our roadways.”

Here is video from a recent news conference on the topic.

So far, most people in Tennessee have reacted positively to the use of the signs, according to the folks at TDOT. In January, the agency posted updated numbers weekly. This month, however, they went to daily updates when the total number of fatalities for 2013 surpassed the number in all of 2012.

Other states using electronic message boards to display fatality numbers include Illinois, Michigan and New Hampshire. It’s likely that other states throughout the country are giving it a try.

It is common in the transit world to see advertisements and public service messaging on trains and buses. But state departments of transportation have generally shied away from using the electronic message boards for anything more than a narrow sharing of lane closure or travel time information, perhaps an Amber Alert or National Weather Service warnings.

Tennessee and other states are realizing that perhaps the best time to catch a driver with a safety message is when that driver is behind the wheel.

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Author: Lloyd Brown

I am the director of communications for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. I enjoy running marathons and triathlons, playing guitar and spending time with family. My professional interest is in how social media and new technology shapes the communication relationship between government and the general public. I have a Master’s degree in Communications and Leadership from Gonzaga University in Spokane and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Washington State University.

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