Distracted driving is a concern for both Minnesota road users and federal agencies. A number of behaviors that people may think of as normal, such as eating or talking on a hands-free cell phone while driving, can distract a driver enough to cause an accident. However, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration has also issued a rule about changes to electronic signs in hopes of reducing driver distraction.
New federal changes
In December 2023, the agency released a manual outlining changes that states need to make over the next two years in hopes of reducing motor vehicle accidents. Among those are electronic signs that could be distracting or confusing to drivers. Many states pride themselves on electronic signs that attempt to remind drivers about highway safety in a humorous way. For example, the Arizona Department of Transportation encourages residents to participate in a contest to come up with funniest signs. The new rules have been met with some concern that these humorous signs will no longer be allowed.
Clarification from Minnesota
However, a spokesperson at the Minnesota Department of Transportation said that the department did not believe that their humorous signs were in violation of the new federal policy. She said that real-time messages about traffic conditions would continue to be prioritized over the more general safety messages and that states were given some flexibility to make their own decisions about the signage. A statement from the Federal Highway Commission clarified that it was not seeking to force states to change funny signs but that it simply wanted them to ensure the clarity and simplicity of their messages.
Minnesota also allows residents to send in ideas for road signs. It appears that in implementing the new laws, states will need to balance the advantages in using humor to convey safety messages with making sure that the signs do not distract drivers.