Who writes the vacation messages on the data boards on the motorway? Inquisitive Texas takes a experience


Whether you’re going home or vacationing in the off-season, the holidays are some of the busiest travel days of the year for Texans and the rest of the country. DFW International Airport forecast a record 275,000 passengers arriving, departing or passing through on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. (Final totals are not expected until January.)

However, the overload isn’t just in the sky. Texas freeways are crowded during the holidays. To help people manage the roads, the Texas Department of Transportation is sending special safety messages.

For those taking to the streets over Thanksgiving, motorists on the Texas highways were greeted with electronic signs with festive phrases such as “gobble, gobble, accelerate” and “keep your eyes peeled”.

And for those who travel for Christmas and New Year’s Eve, signs saying “Drink and drive, I’m sorry yule” have already appeared.

An anonymous reader saw these signs and asked Curious Texas: Who at the Texas Department of Transportation writes the messages on the highway notice boards that promote safety on every vacation?

The electronic maps are part of TxDOT’s highway communications system for motorists across the state. All state highway signs are checked at the Department’s headquarters in Austin.

Most of the time, the signs show information about accident-related traffic or amber warnings. However, on vacations with heavy traffic, the signs turn into vacation-inspired message boards that promote safety.

1/3TXDOT’s Christmas sign “ONLY RUDOLPH SHOULD BE SAD LIT, DRINK AND DRIVE YULE” is driving along Highway 67 in Dallas on December 25, 2019. (Irwin Thompson / The Dallas Morning News.(Irwin Thompson)

2/3TXDOT’s “EAST YOUR EYES ON THE ROAD DRIVE SAFELY” Thanksgiving Sign on Highway 67 in Dallas on November 28, 2019.(Irwin Thompson)

TXDOT's Thanksgiving sign

3/3TXDOT’s “GOBBLE GOBBLE GO EASY ON THE THROTTLE” Thanksgiving Sign on Highway 67 in Dallas on November 28, 2019.(Irwin Thompson)

Ryan LaFontaine, a spokesperson for TxDOT, is one of the people helping curate this news. LaFontaine says the brainstorming is done in-house and the media relations department works with members of the transportation department to create clever messages.

Every message is treated as if it were a normal road sign, so it needs to be short and to the point to grab the driver’s attention, LaFontaine said.

While it seems like a creative way to communicate with drivers, the goal is not to distract them, LaFontaine said, but to act as a “loud and clear” precaution against the dangers of texting or drinking and driving.

Last year 398 people were killed in distracted driving accidents and 940 people were killed in traffic accidents involving motor vehicles in which a driver was under the influence of alcohol. According to TxDOT data, there were no immortal days on the streets of Texas in 2018.

“It’s important that we reach out to people to let them know that buckling up can save your life,” said LaFontaine. “Driving without distractions can save your life and the lives of those around you.”

The department has curated signs for several years and doesn’t limit itself to writing just for the holiday season. LaFontaine says they are also accepting suggestions from local TxDOT engineers across the state for area-specific events like the Houston Rodeo or the Texas OU soccer game.

They also target days when drinking and tailgating are paramount, such as July 4th, Memorial Day, Labor Day, and soccer game days.

One of the personal favorite messages from LaFontaine was from last year’s Christmas season: “Only Rudolph should drive with the lights.”

Maybe the news like Rudolph has a chance to become a holiday classic – TxDOT brought the news back this year.

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