Iowa's Monday Messages

This message in the Iowa Department of Transportation’s “Message Monday” program inspired the Colorado Department of Transportation to launch its “Wednesday Memorial” digital signs. Image courtesy Iowa DOT

In the wake of last week’s news that the number of traffic deaths in Colorado had increased by more than 10% in 2015, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has announced the launch of a weekly memorial to people killed in crashes. This tally of year-to-date traffic fatalities will be displayed every Wednesday, starting today, on CDOT’s digital signs throughout the state.

The death tally messages will be paired with safety messages whose goal will be to reduce accidents. Preliminary data indicate that traffic fatalities are up more than 11 percent, from 488 in 2014 to an estimated 545 in 2015. The Department hopes the campaign will encourage safer driving by raising awareness of the tragic number of deaths on Colorado’s roads.

CDOT Communications Manager Sam Cole said the department borrowed the idea from Iowa, and that other states are also starting this campaign. Andrea Henry, director of the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Office of Strategic Communications, said that state’s messaging program is part of Iowa’s Zero Fatalities program.

Iowa "Message Monday" messages

More Iowa “Message Monday” messages, courtesy CDOT

‘Message Monday’

According to Iowa’s guidelines for its “Message Monday” program, the first panel of each digital message shows the aggregate number of traffic deaths that have occurred since the start of the calendar year. The second panel displays a safety message whose goal is to influence drivers to behave in ways that make the roads safer. Iowa’s Department of Transportation coordinates its second-panel safety messages with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Iowa Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau’s outreach campaigns.

Witty Messages in Iowa

Iowa’s campaign began on August 5, 2013, and continued every Monday of that year as a test. It was continued in 2014, and is still in operation.

Kyle Munson wrote last October for The Des Moines Register about two employees of the Iowa Department of Transportation whose “pithy, funny and informative” messages for that state’s message Mondays are worthy of a late-night comedy show. The duo, traffic engineer Willy Sorenson and Iowa DOT’s social media content manager, Tracey Bramble, have come up with such witty digital sign lines as “Get your head out of your apps, drive safely” (which actor George Takei of “Star Trek” fame loved), and “Nobody puts baby in a hot car,” which was timed to run as the “Dirty Dancing” musical played at the Des Moines Civic Center. You can see a video of Sorenson and Bramble talking about Message Mondays here.

Fallen Officer Memorials

In a related news item, Carlos Illescas writes for The Denver Post that current and former Colorado state troopers are asking the state to allow the placement of permanent memorial signs along highways to honor officers who have died in the line of duty. Under current law, the state only allows temporary signs, which cost $100 and are permitted to stay posted for six years. Those signs honor such deaths as the victims of drunk drivers. In the 80 years that the Colorado State Patrol has existed, 26 troopers have lost their lives while working.

The Association of Colorado State Patrol Professionals is backing legislation in the 2016 session to change the law to permit such permanent signs. CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford said although the Department sympathizes with people who want to honor the troopers, there are concerns that such signs could distract drivers and lead to more car accidents. Drivers might also ignore the signs, Ford said.

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