Pick a message
Here are the 15 top messages in the TDOT contest for 2017. Voting ends March 7 and the winner will be announced the following week. Votes can be cast here.
› Not buckled up? What’s holding you back?
› Speeding can lead to skid marks
› Only bird brains tweet while driving
› Use you blinking blinker!!!
› Avoid a wreck, don’t rubberneck
› Awwwww snap … your seatbelt!
› Shift happens, especially in work zones
› Let your babies grow up to be cowboys. Buckle ‘em up!
› Signal your intentions
› In a hurry? Shoulda left early. Slow down!
› Nice headlights! Turn yours on during rain or fog
› Do your duty, seatbelt your booty!
› Ride like lightning, crash like thunder
› We’ve upped our road safety, so up yours
› Be kind, don’t ride my behind
Source: Tennessee Department of Transportation
Most drivers probably wish they had a highly visible way to express their motoring advice to fellow commuters, but until recently they just didn't have the words or method.
For the last few years, though, the Tennessee Department of Transportation has held a contest asking Tennesseans for their best short driving messages. The winner is posted on the state's 177 dynamic message boards.
The list of 2017's 15 best suggested messages, aimed at distracted and impaired driving, seat belt use, speeding and aggressive driving, is up for the people's vote though March 7. There were 2,000 entries this year.
Aside from the somewhat morbid to-date traffic fatality body count — something Tennessee was the first to do in 2012 — state highway officials like a little pizzazz in their safety messages and they're not afraid of the double entendre.
TDOT spokeswoman Jennifer Flynn said Tennessee wasn't the first to cook up the idea.
"In 2014, our commissioner, John Schroer, saw a quirky message in Boston that said 'USE YAH BLINKAH,' and he thought it was very clever and effective," Flynn said via email.
Schroer found inspiration in the message and "decided we could come up with some messages of our own, which we did," Flynn said.
State staff suggestions weren't stuffy either, capitalizing on Southern slang or using language that might elicit a double-take from passing motorists.
"We used messages that said 'Eyes on the road and your head out of your apps,' 'Buckle up y'all, it's the law,' and 'Ho ho hold your call' in 2014," Flynn said. "They got so much attention — both positive and negative at times — that we decided to have a contest to see what the public could come up with."
That first contest was in 2015 and resulted in the winning gem "Texting and driving? Oh cell no!" Often all the finalists' messages are used on the boards at some point, Flynn said.
Last year's winner was "Turn signals, the original instant messaging."
Message boards usually are situated where they can warn drivers ahead of traffic snarls, blockages, crashes or other hazards. The signs also display Amber Alerts and Silver Alerts.
On Interstate 75, signs north and south of the Hiwassee River bridge warn of heavy fog, detours and closures associated with the fog-prone area. In 1990 the area was the site of a 99-vehicle pile up that claimed 12 lives and injured dozens.
"Love them or hate them, the messages we've been running have helped us accomplish our goal: to get the attention of drivers," Schroer said in 2015. "We don't want these important safety reminders to be so mundane that people stop noticing. This contest can start important conversations about driving behaviors, and maybe make people think about some of their own driving habits."
There's always one winning message, but Flynn said TDOT also uses others that generate a significant number of votes in the contest.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569.