If you’ve ever wondered who writes the digital highway signs up above you on Tennessee interstates — well, some of the most popular were created in a statewide contest. Now the Tennessee Department of Transportation is asking the public for another round of pithy, safety-related sayings.
If you think you can write something more clever than what you’re seeing, you’ve got two weeks to try. Submissions will be taken online until 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 2.
The current signs reference Santa Claus wearing a seat belt and riff on Star Wars. Verbal puns that thinly veil bad words show up quite a bit. Like last year’s winning entry, that said, “Texting and driving, oh cell no.” There’s also, “Eyes on the road and head out of your apps.”
For the record, profanity will get you disqualified.
The tone could shift this year anyway. In a slick promo video, TDOT says it wants more students involved.
TDOT leaders say they want to grab attention and steer it toward safety. They’re seeking sayings on five subjects: speeding, seat belts and distracted, impaired or aggressive driving.
The public gets to vote on the finalists from Feb. 16 to March 1.
Day to day, TDOT relies on its dynamic message sign coordinator, Ray Hallavant. Working out of TDOT's Nashville headquarters, Hallavant coordinates the signs statewide and comes up with some of the sayings. The department also monitors what other states are doing to accommodate some nationwide campaigns.
And one TDOT spokeswoman — Jennifer Flynn in Chattanooga — has come up with several sign sayings, garnering a reputation as “one of those people that has a knack for catchy slogans,” says statewide TDOT spokeswoman B.J. Doughty.