Iowa DOT Rejects Federal Recommendation on Highway Sign Messages

Iowa DOT Rejects Federal Recommendation on Highway Sign Messages

Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) defends the use of creative and humorous messages on highway signs, despite a recommendation from the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) to avoid unconventional and popular culture references.

In a recent development, the Iowa DOT has decided to disregard a recommendation from the FHA regarding the content of messages displayed on highway signs. The FHA’s 11th edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices advises departments to refrain from using messages that incorporate popular culture references, unconventional syntax, or humor. However, the Iowa DOT, which has been utilizing these types of messages for over a decade, argues that the signs do not pose a safety threat and serve as a helpful reminder for drivers to prioritize traffic safety.

Iowa DOT Stands Firm on the Safety of Humorous Highway Signs

The Iowa DOT, responsible for implementing and maintaining highway signs, firmly believes that the use of creative and humorous messages does not compromise road safety. Willy Sorenson, the special projects manager at the DOT, asserts that in the ten years of using these signs, they have not caused any accidents or incidents on the road. Sorenson emphasizes that the messages displayed on the signs change periodically, providing new information and reminders to promote safe driving. The DOT ensures that these messages do not overshadow immediate traffic warnings and undergo a regular review process to maintain clarity and brevity.

The Purpose and Impact of Creative Highway Signs

The primary objective of the creative highway signs is to reinforce traffic safety messages and encourage drivers to adopt responsible behavior on the road. By incorporating popular culture references and humor, the DOT aims to capture drivers’ attention and increase the likelihood of the messages being remembered. These signs serve as a unique and engaging way to convey important information, such as the number of traffic deaths, to the public. While some may argue that unconventional messages could distract drivers, the Iowa DOT maintains that their signs have not caused any accidents or disruptions.

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Clarifying the FHA Recommendation

Contrary to initial confusion, the FHA’s recommendation does not impose a ban on the use of creative messages on highway signs. Instead, it advises departments to avoid messages that incorporate popular culture references, unconventional syntax, or humor. The recommendation is meant to ensure consistency and uniformity in traffic control devices across the country. However, it remains a recommendation, and each state has the autonomy to determine the content of their highway signs.

Future Considerations and Research

While the Iowa DOT is currently standing by its decision to continue using creative messages on highway signs, it remains open to reconsideration in the future. The department acknowledges that further research and data may shed light on the effectiveness and potential drawbacks of these messages. As road safety remains a top priority, the DOT is committed to making evidence-based decisions that prioritize the well-being of drivers.


The Iowa DOT’s defiance of the FHA’s recommendation to avoid creative and humorous messages on highway signs has sparked a debate about the balance between road safety and engaging communication. While the DOT argues that these signs have not caused any accidents, critics raise concerns about potential distractions for drivers. As the discussion continues, it is crucial to consider the effectiveness of these messages in promoting traffic safety and to prioritize evidence-based decision-making to ensure the well-being of all road users.