New Jersey lawmakers question witty highway message ban

(The Center Square) – New Jersey’s political leaders are seeking an explanation from the federal government over its decision to block the state’s use of quirky messages on digital signs, aimed at improving roadway safety.

Last week, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) told the state Department of Transportation to take the messages down from its highway digital boards, citing a policy that requires roadway signs seeking motorists’ attention to convey a simple, clear meaning.

But New Jersey’s political leaders aren’t buying it, and they’re seeking answers from the federal agency about its rationale for blocking the state’s highway safety campaign.

In a letter to acting Federal Highway Administrator Stephanie Pollack, New Jersey’s congressional lawmakers call on the federal agency to justify the move, and explain the analysis that went into FHWA’s decision to block NJDOT’s safety campaign.

The lawmakers wrote that they are “very concerned” about FHWA’s decision to block the use of these signs earlier this week “without providing NJDOT with a comprehensive, data-driven justification for the decision.”

“These quintessential New Jersey messages have had a significant, positive reception around the state, and have helped to alert in-state and out-of-state motorists to take reasonable precautions,” the lawmakers, which included Sens. Cory Booker, D-NJ and Bob Menendez, D-NJ, wrote to Pollack.

The lawmakers pointed out other states have used “comparable” roadway safety campaigns, but those haven’t been blocked by the federal agency.

The messages, which were displayed on digital highway boards along the New Jersey Turnpike and several other state highways, included humorous witticisms such as “We’ll be blunt, don’t drive high,” “Don’t cruise when boozed” and “Slow down. This ain’t Thunder Road.”

But federal highway officials said the messages contained “hidden meanings or cultural knowledge” some motorists might not understand, which they argued would diminish the intended effect of improving roadway safety.

But the lawmakers wrote that the quirky, attention-grabbing messages “seems to be an absolutely ideal way to raise awareness around safety and potentially save lives.”

“Unconventional and creative methods for solving our common problems is a core part of what makes New Jersey an exceptional place to call home,” they wrote.

There was no immediate response from the FHWA to lawmakers’ request.

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