In late summer, the Idaho Transportation Department took a very blunt and direct approach to put the brakes on a rash of traffic crashes near Malad close to the Utah state line. Several of those crashes had resulted in fatalities. After confirming death tolls with Idaho State Police, ITD put the above message on its roadside electronic signs to warn drivers to use caution and stay engaged. The experiment was hugely successful, as not a single fatality has occurred in the area since.
"As the summer driving season went on, we saw several crashes that varied from drivers who apparently fell asleep, inattentive driving, one was possibly a medical situation, maybe excessive speed while towing trailers, and tires that had failed," said Malad Foreman Dan Daniels.
"We'd never thought that there might be a way to help diminish the problem," Daniels said.
After eliminating any problem areas with the roadway, and determining that the surface was in good condition, and all signage was appropriate, ITD District 5 officials decided to send a direct message to drivers. They decided they were no longer looking for a way to warn motorists — the situation is already past that point — so it was time to grab their attention.
"It was decided that the quickest and easiest way to get a message to the traveling public would be through the use of our DMS trailers. After brainstorming our thoughts, we decided where to place the signs and the message that would be used," Daniels explained.
The response was immediate, with several people mentioning how that was not a typical message, and the "reality" factor in the wording likely forced people to process it differently.
"I had received four phone calls from drivers thanking us for putting those signs up, and they were also surprised by the message. They were all equally appreciative of ITD's efforts in catching folks' attention. I also received supporting comments from internal ITD folks — they were surprised by the messaging, but liked it and thought it was very effective," Daniels said.
The boards were up from August 9 through September 17. The district waited after Labor Day, and Brigham Young University-Idaho officials asked if ITD could keep these signs up until then to accommodate the college's move-in weekend.
Daniels said his takeaway is that an occasional change-up in the message is a good thing. "Whatever the change was, and for whatever reason, it grabbed their attention, and that was the goal."
"We did make an impact and difference in changing driver behavior. My foremen have liked using this kind of messaging temporarily, as they have all felt so far it has been more effective," added ITD District 5/District 6 Communication Specialist Megan Stark.