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Utah’s highway message boards: Who’s behind it all and how to get involved

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Utah’s highway traffic signs, we have all seen them. They help us stay informed with all the latest traffic news: which exits are slammed, a city’s anticipated ETA, Zero Fatality numbers and most importantly reminders on how to safe.

But it’s not all just business for UDOT.

Over the years, Utahns have undoubtedly looked up – even looked forward – to what the authors of these message boards are concocting on a daily basis. No, these logophiles and wordsmiths aren’t local comedians, they’re just the punniest employees of Utah’s Department of Transportation reminding commuters: “It’s a lane, not a birthright…”

If you live in Utah and have driven down the freeway, you have most definitely seen a variable message sign (VMS). A variable message sign is an electronic message board crafted to display eye-catching warnings and reminders for drivers as they roll down Utah freeways. But, who are the masterminds behind it all?

On February 18, the Utah Department of Transportation dishes out the process.

According to the department, their ‘Message Monday’ team is comprised of eight to ten correspondents. The team then gathers once a month for about 90 minutes to map out their ideas for the upcoming month.

(Photo Gallery Courtesy: Utah Department of Transportation)

According to John Gleason with UDOT, the message board slogans are inspired by upcoming events, holidays, or other newsworthy subjects.

When it comes to figuring out their creative flow and delving into the process, Mat Allred also with UDOT says it’s different for everyone. Sometimes, the team even meets up a day before their meeting and just spitballs ideas, he adds.

“It’s Easter weekend, for example, and we need a sign for that Monday, so we’ll spend time googling silly phrases or brainstorm things that we know are common for that holiday and then refine them from there,” Allred explains.

“It is a very collaborative process,” chimes Grant Potter, UDOT’s digital specialist.

UDOT leads say ‘Message Mondays’ will officially be six-years-old in May.

“A Lot of the time, it is about making each other laugh, and using each other as the audience and seeing what works,” adds Gleason.

Though cracking jokes is a part of the meeting, Allred emphasizes the main goal behind ‘Message Mondays’ is to have people talk about driver safety.

Gleason says, when the team gets an idea, the slogans are then manually typed up into a computer which then syncs with all the message boards across the state.

When it all boils down, UDOT’s intention is to create a conversation with Utah drivers to encourage safe driving habits, such as paying more attention to surrounding traffic, wearing seat belts, avoiding drowsy driving and cell phone usage.

“We want people to show up to work or their home after they have seen one of our signs and say ‘holy crap, did you see that?’,” Allred adds. “Because if it is just a simple ‘buckle up’ sign, nobody will be talking about that. Though as good as a message ‘buckle up’ is, nobody is going to go home and mention to their spouse, ‘Oh man! Did you see the sign that said buckle up today?'”

According to the team, using humor to advocate for safety is the best way to stay memorable and have others drive safe.

“All our messages relate back to a safety message, we don’t just put anything out there,” states Potter.

The team says though they go about the serious topic in a light-hearted way, they feel it allows drivers to connect better to the laws.

“It’s all about finding a different approach that is going to resonate with people,” Gleason shares. “It may strike them as funny, but then they may be left thinking about it for the next mile or two, and then they might think ‘huh that actually applies to me and I should be better at that.”

(Photo Gallery Courtesy: Utah Department of Transportation)

Just last year in 2020, 95 lives were lost during Utah’s 100 deadliest days, Zero Fatalities Utah informs.

According to UDOT, the Monday messages are displayed to increase safety awareness, and the signs each Friday indicate the number of days during the past week with no fatalities on Utah’s roads.

(Photo Gallery Courtesy: Utah Zero Fatalities)

When it all boils down, the team shares they only want to make their mark in being thought-provoking and having drivers pay attention. At the end of the day, it is really just about driver safety and sticking to the Zero Fatalities’ mission.

“Some people may think zero is an impossible goal, but when it comes to your life or the lives of your friends and family, would any other number be acceptable?” writes Zero Fatalities Utah. “We’re aiming for Zero Fatalities because everyone matters. So start by saving your own life and join us on the road to Zero Fatalities today.”

The public can also take part in ‘Message Mondays’ by submitting ideas to messagemonday@utah.gov, or Twitter @UtahDOT #MessageMonday and Facebook.

(Photo Gallery Courtesy: Utah Department of Transportation)

The Utah Department of Transportation is more than just roads and wordsmiths. They are responsible for providing transportation choices through a multimodal transportation system that strengthens the economy and enhances the quality of life in communities throughout the state. Roads, transit, and active transportation must all work together to complement each other.

UDOT also has several divisions that are responsible for helping the department reach these goals as well as involvement with other government bodies. Information about these divisions and resources for legislators and the Transportation Commission as well as details about special projects and programs can be found here.

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