The punny messages states have been putting on their highway signs won’t be as fun from now on. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) announced new guidance last month on how states should use those electronic message boards to convey important information to drivers, and it does not include pop-culture references or jokes.

According to the FHWA, highway messages should be “simple, direct, brief, legible, and clear” to drivers. The new rule recommends that states not display messages with “obscure or secondary meanings, such as those with popular culture references, unconventional sign legend syntax, or that are intended to be humorous” on traffic control devices. Such playful language might be “misunderstood or understood only by a limited segment of road users” and could “adversely affect respect for the sign.”


It’s a sad end to some highway playfulness, but the new rules don’t come as a surprise. The Feds told New Jersey near the end of 2022 to cut it with cute and creative messages, which was one of the first indications that the US government might implement new rules about highway traffic signs.

New Jersey ran some baller messages like: “We’ll be blunt – don’t drive high,” “Get your head out of your apps,” and “Hocus pocus, drive with focus.” But the state also had to tell its drivers to stop taking pictures of its creative signs, saying in a tweet through the New Jersey Department of Transportation that snapping pics is “very dangerous and defeats the message we’re trying to drive home.”

Utah, Delaware, Ohio, Tennessee, and other states have also transmitted fun and creative messages on their highway signs.

If you want to learn more about how the government controls the roads, check out the 1,100-page Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways 11th Edition, published last month. The new rules for the electronic control boards are on page 519.

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