MoDOT team hopes interstate signs provide messages for thought

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COLUMBIA — They can be witty or straight to the point. The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) has more than 250 dynamic message signs along Missouri highways and interstates that warn of accidents
and can also catch your attention.

But who's in charge of coming up with the messages on the signs and what goes into the process?

Linda Wilson Horn, communications coordinator with MoDOT, works on the team that writes and schedules sign content.

"The main purpose for the signs is when there is a crash or if we have a work zone, the message boards would relay that information to the public," Wilson Horn said. "But we made the decision a number of years ago that instead of leaving them blank when we didn't have a crash or a work zone, that we would use them for public safety messages."

Wilson Horn and her team decided about two and a half years ago that they were going to step up the sign content to be more humorous and creative. The messages are changed every month. She says she and her team strive to make the signs seasonal or pertinent to events at the time, like holidays and tailgating.

How Horn and other MoDOT employees find inspiration for sign messages may surprise you.

"I look at bumper stickers," Wilson Horn said. "I look at things trending on social media. I look kinda, again, just time of year, what's going on."

However, Wilson Horn has no data to show how effective the signs are. In fact, fatality accidents on Missouri interstates and highways are up six percent compared to this time last year.

Ruth Walker, a partner at Bluestem Missouri Crafts, hopes to see some data on the effectiveness on the signs soon.

"I do think there should be studies done because it seems that our highway funds are pretty low anyway and if these signs aren't helping, then they don't need to be putting them up," Walker said.

Whether you love or hate the MoDOT signs, Wilson Horn believes there's a national problem responsible for more than 35,000 deaths across American highways and interstates. She hopes to see Missouri's percentage in that total decrease.

"Our messages, even when they're humorous, they're still focused on wearing your seatbelt, not texting and driving, not drinking and driving, and just slowing down and being more alert when you're instead of sort of driving on autopilot," Wilson Horn said.