Messages hammering drivers to stay sober, wear their seat belts and curb other dangerous behaviors can often carry a heavy tone, but now in Minnesota they are getting more pithy.

Following Iowa’s lead, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is joining a growing number of states turning to humor to drive home the important message of abstaining from life-threatening behaviors and making smart choices while behind the wheel.

On Mondays, MnDOT will use 280 electronic message boards statewide to broadcast lighthearted positive messages hoping to change driver conduct and reduce the number of crashes that result in serious injuries or deaths, said MnDOT’s Kristine Hernandez, who also serves as the coordinator of the state’s Toward Zero Deaths program.

Called Message Monday, the initiative kicked off last week with the line, “Don’t Fumble Your Life Away. Buckle Up.” It came following a recent seat belt campaign in which law enforcement from across the state issued 4,351 citations to unbuckled motorists and 166 tickets to drivers who had children who were not properly restrained in their vehicle.

MnDOT will be drafting slogans drawing on references from movies, TV shows, music and other slices of pop culture to communicate the risks associated with some of the most menacing behaviors on the road, including speeding and drunken, distracted, drowsy and aggressive driving. The state also will be borrowing messages that have resonated with drivers in Iowa where the cogent notices that started appearing two years ago have developed something of a cult following. Motorists also will be able to submit suggestions.

“We want to change the traffic safety culture in Minnesota and this is another tool in the toolbox,” Hernandez said. “We have a super cool one on distracted driving, but you’ll have to wait until April for that one.” (April is National Distracted Driving Awareness month.)

Looking for greater impact

Since 2013, MnDOT has used its electronic signs about 30 times a year to display traditional public service announcements such as “1 in 4 Deaths Caused by Drunken Drivers” and “1 in 5 Traffic Deaths are Speed Related,” in conjunction with state and national safe-driving campaigns. But the number of people dying on state roads each year has not declined as much as authorities would like to see over that time period. Last year the state recorded 411 traffic deaths. So MnDOT and the Department of Public Safety decided to adopt Message Monday.

“Our demographic on who’s dying is young adult males who don’t watch traditional news sources and we want to reach them where they are at: driving,” Hernandez said. “With creativity, we might generate some talk. We want to change behavior around safe driving and get drivers to take responsibility to be safe drivers. We have to win them over.”

Do they work? At least one study by the Federal Highway Administration showed that 73 percent of travelers said the direct messages are the best way to communicate with drivers. Moreover, 23 percent said they changed their driving conduct as a result of seeing the signs and more than half did at a later time.

To keep messages from being a distraction, MnDOT will display them only between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. in the metro area and noon and midnight in other locations.

 

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