'Obscure' and 'Humorous' Messages Are Getting Banned from Electronic Highway Signs

The Federal Highway Administration said states have until 2026 to comply with the new changes

<p>Noam Galai/Getty</p> Electronic sign in New York City

Noam Galai/Getty

Electronic sign in New York City

Those quirky messages seen on overhead electronic street signs? Sorry, they've been banned.

In a new manual released in Dec. 2023, the United States' Federal Highway Administration said states must stop using messaging on signs with “obscure meanings, references to popular culture, that are intended to be humorous, or otherwise use nonstandard syntax.”

The agency is concerned that some messages can either be misunderstood or distracting to drivers, and has requested that overhead electronic street signs be “simple, direct, brief, legible and clear.”

States have two years to comply with the changes outlined in the 11th edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways, according to the agency.

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Overhead electronic street signs can be used to display information such as warnings about traffic delays, weather conditions, crashes and more, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Some states are well known for some of their witty messaging, like Massachusetts, which frequently has the phrase “Use Yah Blinkah” on its signs. But messages like these will be phased out over the next two years.

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Matt Bruning, press secretary for Ohio’s Department of Transportation, told Cincinnati Enquirer that federal authorities are simply asking states “to be more mindful that the signs are understood.”

"But we’re able to do some things with generic messaging that threads the needle,” he added.

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This is the first time the MUTCD has been updated in over a decade, Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt said in a press release from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The new manual is aimed at improving the public’s travel experience as a whole, she added.

“With this long-awaited update to the MUTCD, we are helping our state and local partners make it safer to walk, bike, and drive, and embracing new technologies with the potential to make our transportation system safer and more efficient,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in the release.

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