What’s the sexiest thing you can wear in your car? Your seat belt. At least that’s what the Utah Department of Transportation thinks.
In 2015, UDOT Public Information Officer, John Gleason, and a handful of communication, operations and safety employees, formed an ad hoc team and started brainstorming clever public safety messages to post on the Utah’s interstate variable message signs.
In 2012, the number of traffic-related fatalities was at a 50-year low, John said, but since then, that annual number has been trending up, and on UDOT’s Zero Fatalities report card, higher is not better.
Their first message? “That Seat Belt Looks Good on You.”
These pithy and amusing dispatches illuminate motorists’ Monday travels in a program called Message Monday. If a holiday falls on a Monday, the message alludes to the day, such as Internal Communications Manager, Mat Allred’s favorite, “It’s Columbus Day. Discover Your Turn Signal.”
On Fridays, UDOT posts Zero Fatalities statistics, and every other weekday the signs communicate road condition and traffic information.
Once a week, the creative team engages in a short meeting to decide on the next Monday’s message.
“It’s pretty grassroots,” John noted. “With very little effort, we can make a huge impact.” But the team must constantly consider how to shape that impact and craft a notable message that appeals, but does not offend. “The majority of people will take it as light-hearted,” said digital communications specialist Zach Whitney, “and it’s never our intention to offend.”
Nonetheless, their audience is diverse, and UDOT did receive mixed reviews on the message, “Show Some Class. Stay Off My…Bumper.” Also, as Zero Fatalities Program Manager Kristen Hoschouer mentioned, some drivers interpreted the recent “Exit to Text it” message as a traffic situation alert. Kristen added that UDOT welcomes feedback, and encourages the public to suggest their own Monday Message ideas.
The messages are witty, but, as Traveler Information Manager, Lisa Miller, pointed out, “UDOT’s main goal is to reduce fatalities, and our goal is to encourage behavior change. Too snarky, edgy, or too fun deviates from the main message. We do have fun with it,” she added, “but it’s a big responsibility.”
Part of the team’s responsibility, said Corey Coulam, is to align messages with national and other government agency safety campaigns. Corey is UDOT’s Traffic Operations Center Control Room Manager and coordinates the state’s variable messaging. Though the team’s witticisms are prescheduled, Corey imparted that “PSAs are the lowest item on the totem pole. It only takes a few seconds to change a message, and we do that if, for example, we need to alert drivers to snow, icy roads, roadwork or event traffic.”
The message format, too, follows safety measures. The number of a message’s lines and characters is based on research data that has determined how much information a driver can comprehend in a certain time at a particular distance.
If you have an idea for a Monday Message, email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @UtahDOT #MessageMonday.