Feds Get Serious: No Funny Electronic Highway Signs by 2026

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Are you kidding me? This must be a joke. Except that it isn’t.

In the spirit of Tommy Lee Jones’ character in Men in Black—“We at the FBI do not have a sense of humor we are aware of”—the U.S. Federal Highway Administration is banning humorous messages on electronic signs that appear on our highways and freeways.

According to the Associated Press and other news outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, states have two years to implement all of the changes outlined in the agency’s new 1100-page manual, which includes restrictions on “General Information Signs” like electronic message boards. The manual explains that signage should be “simple, direct, brief, legible, and clear” and only be used for important information such as warning drivers of crashes ahead, adverse weather conditions, and traffic delays, as well as seatbelt reminders and warnings about the dangers of speeding or driving while impaired.

“A CMS [changeable message sign] should not be used to display a traffic safety campaign message if doing so could adversely affect respect for the sign,” the manual reads. “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.”

No Alcohol No Drugs digital road sign at sunny roadside
Getty Images/fStop

That’s bad news for those who enjoy the jokes, puns, and pop-culture references used by many states as a way to draw attention to important messages. Among those highlighted by the Associated Press: “Use Yah Blinkah” in Massachusetts; “Visiting in-laws? Slow down, get there late,” from Ohio; “Don’t drive Star Spangled Hammered,” from Pennsylvania; “Hocus pocus, drive with focus” from New Jersey; and “Hands on the wheel, not your meal” from Arizona.

Non-compliance with the new standards, which go into effect in 2026, could cost states federal assistance. Local officials may even end up in court.

Arizona state Rep. David Cook (R), whose state has more than 300 electronic signs along its highways, considers the new law an unneeded case of government overreach. “Why are you trying to have the federal government come in and tell us what we can do in our own state? Prime example that the federal government is not focusing on what they need to be.”

While the Federal Highway Administration claims humorous signs are distracting, the WSJ says there are conflicting studies about their effectiveness. In fact, the newspaper cited a 2020 analysis conducted for Virginia’s DOT which found that humorous signs actually “commanded the most cognitive attention.”

In addition to Arizona, President Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware is among those states balking at the federal directive.

“Our position is that the messaging we use has a safety theme and therefore is appropriate for use,” the Delaware Department of Transportation says.

Before you ask, four states—Vermont, Maine, Alaska, and Hawaii—already ban roadside advertising billboards, not because they distract drivers but because they detract from the natural beauty of the area. Which begs the question, isn’t natural beauty also distracting to drivers? And what about those do-everything electronic screens that are commonplace inside today’s modern vehicles?

We have no doubt that the issue is far from over. Perhaps someday we’ll all look back on this and … laugh.



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    “Prime example that the federal government is not focusing on what they need to be.”
    No kidding. But the federal government hasn’t been focused on what they need to be for at least 40 years that I know of…

    If the opposite of “pro” is “con”, then the opposite of “Progress” is “Congress”! Need I say more?

    It’s just stupid and a waste of money and time. If they really care about distracted drivers they would outlaw 18 ” screens on the dashboard. I seen idiots watching videos while driving on the freeway.

    I actually think this is a good idea. I like these funny signs too but they’re also stupid and a strange way to utilize a half a million dollar expenditure. And some people might miss the pop culture references – and some of them just aren’t funny, which is a bigger sin! Maybe now they’ll think about creating messages that are effective while being brief and direct. And not spend time thinking of ways to make them funny, and failing miserably.

    Agreed… “Hands on the wheel, not your meal” is not direct and may be misunderstood by some drivers. It should be replaced by “Eating while driving is included in the definition of Distracted Driving per Section 202.5-h and is punishable by a fine up to $150 and up to 2 weeks of community service”

    I think that will be highly effective as people will have to slow down to 20mph on the highway to read that entire sign.

    Sounds like the rule was written by some pinch-faced old maid who is miserable and wants everyone to be just as miserable.

    Here is the trouble. You can no longer trust people to do what is right.

    Yes the humor is fun but there are going to be people who take things too far.

    The intent of these signs are to inform of important things. Much like the nightly news it is not a stand up act.
    Leave the humor to the commercial signs that we have plenty of along the roads today.

    We need to remember these signs are public service information only.

    If you just posted that statement on a flashing board, we’d all laugh so hard…
    and, the government guy would definitely not get it.

    The Texas Department of Transportation uses humorous sayings around the holidays. There are a lot of things competing for the attention of passengers. If you’re not keeping up, you’re falling behind. I understand what the Feds are saying here, but I think they’re off-base here.

    I certainly notice these humorous signs more than others. I’d like to see a ton of signs *removed* from our roadways. It’s a cluttered mess. And if the Federal Highway Administration wants to do us a favor, they’ll go after the digital billboards. Some of them flash obnoxiously and can be almost dangerously too bright and flashy, particularly at night.

    The FHA has no business dealing with this. Just proves they have nothing to do there when this is so important for them.

    But it is perfectly fine for people to be focused on their cell phone in their lap while driving with their peripheral vision………

    Are road signs specifically identified in US Code? If not, that means that DOT interpeted some portion of existing US Code to write the new rule. Turns out that the Supreme Court will be making a decision soon (Chevron) about the ability of government agencies to interpert (write rules) based on vague laws. Indications are that this practice will be found unconsitutional.

    This article certainly has some political connotations and gauging by previous comments the policies and regulations currently being thrust upon it’s citizens by the FED has surpassed “Overreach”. The 10th Amendment clearly states “The powers not delegated to the United State by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Now I’m really not sure if the Federal Highway Administration is legal in regards to our Constitution, much the same with many of the other alphabet agencies. However, let’s get back to letting “We the People” decide what is best for us, at the local level i.e. within our sovereign State. That of course includes many of the “overreach” regulations already being forced upon us by the Fed and in some cases our own States, just look at California, Illinois, Michigan and New York for example. I think the humous signs are ok and I might add that they should throw in some sarcasm once in awhile. Let us keep the FHA in check because if you give them an inch they will take a mile.

    I’m going to devote the remainder of the first quarter of 2024 studying the 1161 pages of the Manual on
    Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways! Its no wonder we get mired down in regulatory B.S.!?
    In the meantime I rented a Volvo and a Hyundai recently and because everything has gone to big screen digital controls for every useful and useless function of a modern vehicle (vs. clear analog) I spent a great deal of time looking at the center console screen instead of eyes on the road.
    Perhaps the FHA and the NHTSA should talk to each other and set some priorities about what safety really looks like??

    So glad that the federal government has solved all the big problems and now has the time and resources to be laser-focused on nonsense like this.

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