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FHWA clears up its position on funny traffic signs


Photo: MassDOT

Washington — State highway signs with humorous messages aren’t being banned, the Federal Highway Administration said after news reports to the contrary captured national attention – including from lawmakers.

The confusion stems from recent updates to the agency’s Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways. Also known as the MUTCD, the resource provides “the national standard for traffic signs, signals and pavement markings to ensure a uniform and predictable environment for people who walk, bike and drive.”

Various state departments of transportation have used funny signs to share safety messages. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation, for example, has saluted the regional accent with a “use yah blinkah” sign.

Rather than a ban, the updated manual “includes a recommendation to avoid the use of humor and pop culture references because it may confuse or distract drivers,” an FHWA spokesperson said.

FHWA consulted numerous stakeholders when developing the revisions, including state and local traffic engineers and traffic control device technicians.

In a letter dated Jan. 18 and addressed to FHWA Administrator Shailen Bhatt, Reps. Greg Stanton (D-AZ) and Thomas H. Kean Jr. (R-NJ) call the guidelines a “blanket discouragement of humorous signs that leaves no room for state-by-state discretion.”

The lawmakers, who both serve on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, continue: “We agree that clear, concise signage is important; however, we believe this can be done with humor while keeping the attention of drivers on the road.”

The letter requests feedback from FHWA on its analysis behind the guidelines, whether crash or fatality data influenced them, and whether FHWA communicated with state departments of transportation during the process.

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