One of the local news stations carried an article today that set me over the edge, so brace yourself for an unwanted Codger Rant.
The article, headlined “Ohio transportation officials use highway sign humor for safety,” was all about how the Ohio Department of Transportation (“ODOT”) is using those intrusive, programmable, ever looming electronic highways signs “to encourage drivers to stay safe and to smile.” How? Through messages like these dismal chestnuts — “Turkey says buckle buckle,” or “Drive egg-cellent some bunny needs you,” or “Santa sees you when you’re speeding.” And if those knee-slappers aren’t leaving you in stitches, how about that favorite subject of stand-up hacks from the ’60s — namely, a little in-law humor? Like: “Visiting in-laws? Slow down, get there late.”
It’s a laugh riot, for sure. An ODOT official quoted in the article says: “We are a government agency, but we are a government agency with a sense of humor.”
Hey, ODOT? Uh, we’ll be the judge of that.
Here’s what’s interesting. Those signs obviously cost a lot of money. They were initially presented to taxpayers as something that could be used in emergencies, like “amber alerts” when an adult supposedly goes missing. Of course, the amber alert rationale made no sense, unless drivers navigating the highways are somehow supposed to act on identified license plate numbers and car makes and models. But how are drivers supposed to take down the information? Keep a pen and notepad handy and scribble down the information while they’re manning the steering wheel? Use forbidden cell phones to take photos of the sign? And even if drivers could assimilate that information, are we really supposed to pay attention to the makes and models and license plates of other cars on the road, rather than our driving?
But, as inevitably seems to be the case, the use of the signs has now gone beyond their initial stated purpose. Now would-be comedians in state government are using the signs to try out lame jokes that even a self-respecting Dad wouldn’t touch. Is this really part of somebody’s job description? And as for those of us who wonder whether the signs aren’t an unnecessary distraction, the article reports that the ODOT points out that “there’s no indication the signs have been blamed for any crashes.” Gee, that doesn’t seem like a very high standard to meet, does it?
I’m sick to death of spending money on stuff that seems affirmatively counterproductive and unhelpful. When it comes to electronic highway signs, I’m not laughing.