Did you hear the one about — crash


I was driving through Colorado last summer when I encountered a series of electronic highway signs warning me to “slow the fast down.”

Being a product of the Colorado school system, I was taken aback by the poor grammar and sentence construction. Then it occurred to me that “fast” was a four-letter word starting with “f” so I was supposed to think — well, you know.

How edgy. Just what I want in my highway signs. This week it’s posted alongside Interstate 25, next week it will be doing the opening set at Jimmy’s Chuckle Hut.

There’s apparently good money to be made writing jokes for the highway department. The Internet is filled with sites touting the most clever messages from the government.

My favorite is from Ohio: “Visiting in-laws? Slow down, get there late.” Although I have to give an honorable mention to Pennsylvania for “Don’t Drive Star Spangled Hammered.” I assume they roll that one out for the patriotic holidays.

But the killjoys at the federal Department of Transportation have no sense of humor. Last week they issued new guidelines stating signs with “pop culture references … or that are intended to be humorous should not be used,” because not everybody will get the joke and even those who do will require more time to process the message.

Ironically, many of the signs diverting our attention have messages warning us to focus on the road and not be distracted.

The new guidelines call for traffic signs to be “simple, direct, brief, legible and clear.”

Highway signs are intended to warn drivers of potential hazards ahead. Electronic signs make it much easier to adapt to changing conditions. But they require more time spent with eyes off the road than traditional signs that can be identified by shape and color.

Supporters of the knee-slapping highway signs claim they are more effective because they require drivers to spend more time processing the message. That may be true. But groaning upon comprehension of a message doesn’t seem more likely to ensure compliance with it.

I should probably warn readers that this is the point in today’s column where I turn into the old guy shouting at the kids to get off his lawn. The larger problem, it seems to me, is that we have become a society that needs to be entertained all of our waking hours, even when traveling 80 miles an hour down the highway.

Carmakers used to brag about how powerful their cars were, or how roomy they were or how safe they were. Now they brag about how many video screens there are, or how good the stereo system is or how many Internet outlets it has.

Cars are much safer and more reliable today. There were 26.42 traffic deaths per every 100,000 people in 1969, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That number was down to 10.28 in 2014, but it has been on the rise since then.

Despite those improvements, driving is still the most dangerous thing most of us do on a daily basis. That’s especially true when driving at highway speed.

It’s a task that requires focus and concentration, not levity.

Walter Rubel can be reached at

Crash, highway signs