Humorous obscure and unconventional traffic safety messages on traffic signs

Humorous, obscure and unconventional traffic safety messages on traffic signs are PROHIBITED by the Federal Highway Administration

  • The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), part of the Department of Transportation, prohibits humor and pop culture references in messages
  • The FHWA argues that such silly signs can be distracting and should focus solely on conveying information
  • The FHWA Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices emphasizes avoiding signs with unclear meaning or humor; States now have two years to comply

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, has decided to forego the sense of humor and will instead implement a ban on bizarre, funny or pop culture references on road signs.

New guidance from the FHWA suggests it's time to stop all funny business when it comes to road safety warnings that could distract drivers.

“Language that uses pop culture references or humor should be avoided on signs,” the guidelines say.

The crackdown on comedy aims to ensure that drivers can concentrate fully on driving and are not distracted by things they consider non-essential – even if a joke is used to make an important point.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, suddenly has a workaround when it comes to a sense of humor. Signs like these Ohio Department of Transportation highway signs will be a thing of the past starting in 2026

The FHWA argues that such silly signs can be distracting and should focus solely on conveying information

The FHWA argues that such silly signs can be distracting and should focus solely on conveying information

The signs sometimes resemble bad dad jokes - this one refers to Cousin Eddie from National Lampoon's Vacation

The signs sometimes resemble bad dad jokes – this one refers to Cousin Eddie from National Lampoon's Vacation

This move by the DOT to remove humor from traffic signs has been in the works for several years.

In 2021, a draft of the upcoming update to the FHWA Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices was issued, raising concerns that signs with unclear or secondary meaning intended to be humorous should not be used.

One example given in the guidelines suggests replacing a humorous sign like Massachusetts' famous “Use Yah Blinkah” with a simpler message like “UNBUCKLED seatbelts fine + points.”

The purpose of the directive appears to be to prioritize functional clarity over creative expression.

“Messages with obscure or secondary meaning, such as those with references to popular culture, unconventional legend syntax, or those intended to be humorous, should not be used,” the humorless instructions say.

Some states have argued that humorous characters are both entertaining and memorable.

A few years ago, the Ohio Department of Transportation released the title “Life is fra-gee-lay, Drive Safe” in reference to “A Christmas Story,” the 1983 film shot in Cleveland.

In 2022, New Jersey posted: “Slow down, this is not Thunder Road.”

During the holidays, Arizona wrote, “Use headlights like Rudolph used his red nose.”

One example given in the guidelines suggests replacing a humorous sign like Massachusetts' famous

One example given in the guidelines suggests replacing a humorous sign like Massachusetts' famous “Use Yah Blinkah” with a simpler message like “UNBUCKLED seatbelts fine + points.”

The Utah Department of Transportation recognizes Amuse drivers - this requires lane discipline

The Utah Department of Transportation recognizes Amuse drivers – this requires lane discipline

In 2022, New Jersey posted: “Slow down, this is not Thunder Road.”

In 2022, New Jersey posted: “Slow down, this is not Thunder Road.”

This sign from the Arizona DOT reminds drivers to use their lights while conveying holiday cheer

This sign from the Arizona DOT reminds drivers to use their lights while conveying holiday cheer

The FHWA notes that signs with pop culture references can be confusing to those who don't understand them and

The FHWA notes that signs with pop culture references can be confusing to those who don't understand them and “divert mental energy from driving.”

In fact, a 2020 Virginia DOT found that such signs attract the most cognitive attention compared to generic safety signs.

But this refutes the argument that it is precisely the memorability of these characters that is important.

Signs with pop culture references can be confusing to those who don't understand them and can “divert mental energy from driving.”

States have now been given two years to implement all the changes outlined in the 2024 edition of the handbook.