It’s a situation that has happened to just about all of us. You’re driving along in the car, reading the newspaper, drinking your latte, and texting your entire contact list about the amazing get-together you attended the previous night. Needing a brief respite from the stimuli, a moment is taken to look at the road and cars around you. As your eyes travel upwards, you see that one of the variable message signs above you has been turned on, and as usual, the news is far from good. In just about a mile, there’s a delay waiting for you, time will slow down, and you’ll be taking a significant amount minutes (or hours) to familiarize yourself with the backside of the car in front of you. Or, maybe there is snow falling from the sky at a pretty good clip, but the sign is there to remind you that with all of this frozen precipitation covering the roadway, slippery conditions exist!
Other times, the sign lights up to remind drivers of some of the more commonly-known laws of our roadways. I find it rather difficult to fathom that we must remind citizens as often as we do that it is important to buckle our seat belts, and avoid the practice of downing multiple alcoholic beverages before getting behind the wheel of the car. These messages usually come up on a monthly basis, especially around the holidays, when many drivers take to the roads to get to whichever destination they must. Even though these are glaring rules of the road that drivers must know, they still needed to be reminded of them. Makes you wonder how people stayed informed of highway laws before these signs came into existence. Oh, that’s right, common sense.
Variable message signs have increased in popularity over the years, replacing the need for drivers to have to exercise common sense while being behind the wheel of their cars. Sure, the sign may let you know that there’s a delay ahead, and maybe there is an exit you can hop off before you reach that point. However, do you really want to join everyone else from the highway on the back roads, with the added bonus of traffic lights? I would think that if I were driving along, and saw a massive string of brake lights ahead of me, I’d quickly realize there was a traffic jam ahead, and I wouldn’t need a sign to tell me that. The same goes for when it’s snowing. I learned at a very young age that frozen precipitation leads to slippery surfaces. If drivers can’t figure this out without a giant sign telling them so, do we really want them holding licenses and sharing the roads with us?
Rather than keeping these signs in use for what we currently utilize them for, why don’t we spice things up a little bit? Use the signs to convey other messages; ones that might serve a purpose for other people, and put a smile on the face of commuters. Sure, many of us have seen the internet photo of the sign talking about what happened to the guy talking on his cell phone, but rather than use that as simply a laughter-inducing link or email attachment, let’s use it as a springboard for other potential uses of the variable message sign. Let’s put the sign to use, rather than have it serve as nothing but a black mass hanging above the highway most of the time.
Think about poor Jim, who is hosting a Super Bowl party, and realized with just an hour until folks start showing up, that he completely forgot to buy dip. Suddenly, he remembers that Roger is on his way, and is taking the highway. He is then able to go online, enter a password and type a few words, and BAM! “Roger, I’m out of dip, stop and get some or else!” The Super Bowl party has been saved. There is also the possibility that Sandy has grown tired of her relationship with Aaron, and that it is time to call it quits. She is not in the mood for a confrontation nor a phone call. “Sorry Aaron, it’s over. -Sandy”. Finally, what about using it as a way to advertise for political candidates? There’s an election coming up, doncha know!
See, there are myriad potential uses for these signs besides the mundane and painfully obvious messages that they deliver today. If only the general public were allowed to occasionally (for a small fee) post their own messages. Or, maybe we could start using them to display sports scores, stock quotes, and news tickers. It would definitely make me put down the latte and pay attention to the road.