Drivers can’t say enough about highway message boards

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Thank you for the invitation to suggest messages on highway electronic sign boards. [Dr. Gridlock, April 5] Here are a few. My favorite is the first.

→Drive right — pass left

→Dim headlights in traffic

→Concentrate on driving

→Turn on turn signal well in advance of turn

Seymour Strongin, St. Michaels

DG: The first, or a variation on it, was popular with many travelers who responded to my request for suggestions about what advice they would give one another via electronic message boards. But drivers obsessed about getting other drivers to turn their lights on when the sunlight dims.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Still the most helpful on the Capital Beltway electronic board signs would be “Lights on!” Surely, whoever is responsible for them can know when it is raining or foggy, or even at sundown, and put up the “Lights on!” sign. Some you mentioned — stopping for school buses, for example — are not appropriate for the Beltway because this doesn’t happen there and would be a distraction.

Gretchen Dunn, New Carrollton

DG: That’s getting closer to the standard followed by highway departments. Messages with the highest priorities should relate to current conditions and minimize distraction.

Another traveler suggested:

ACCIDENT?

MOVE IT

This was an effort to get drivers who encountered each others’ fenders to move their vehicles to the shoulder rather than leaving them in the crash position, so that the travel lanes could be cleared.

One letter writer combined a few popular ideas on safety and courtesy.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

→Keep Right except to pass.

→Running late? Slow down! That’s YOUR problem — not everyone else’s.

→Remember the courtesy wave :-)

C. Gilmour, Severna Park

DG: Many of us have a lot we’d like to share. Longer messages might take a couple of screens to display, which is something the real message writers try to avoid. Anything that tempts drivers to slow down to read can contribute to congestion and detract from safety.

The flip side

While many readers responded to the dream of getting their messages up in lights, others took a dim view of the concept.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

You list safety tips for possible display on electronic billboards or announcing on radio, noting that they are tips most drivers probably haven’t seen since they passed their driving tests.

While publishing these tips is commendable, I don’t understand why drivers can’t remember guidelines that are taught in driver’s ed, much less want — or expect — radio announcers and electronic billboards to repeat them.

I got my license 33 years ago and still remember and follow all of these guidelines, as they are the basis for safe driving. If drivers need to be reminded of how to drive safely, perhaps they shouldn’t be on the road in the first place.

Maureen Clyne, Alexandria

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I disagree completely about putting safety messages on the electronic highway signs and would go as far to say that I question their usefulness at all!

I drove a route the Friday of Easter weekend that I have taken countless times before: Interstate 95 south from the Delaware Memorial Bridge to Alexandria. I have encountered many traffic situations on my trips, and I cannot recall once being aided by those signs.

On Good Friday, I could swear that I was, in fact, significantly delayed because of the electronic signs on I-95 South between Interstate 95 and Baltimore. The backup lasted for miles and miles, and it cleared only after we passed under an electronic sign near the Chesapeake House in Maryland that said “Heavy volume. Expect minor delays. Keep alert.”

I had already been delayed greatly. And then stop-and-go traffic that had been backed up for miles started to flow.

We all know what I am supposing here: The sign was a major contributing factor in causing the traffic jam. Yes, during my midday drive I encountered other delays caused by discernible things, such as a disabled vehicle or a lane closure, but none as lengthy as that.

If you pay attention, you will always notice brake lights when people are trying to read the sign and drive at the same time. It is difficult at that speed and with the number of cars on the road to look up and read the message.

I would say it is dangerous and irresponsible to suggest that the signs try to teach responsible safe driving skills to a driver who is traveling at high speed in a heavy vehicle on a congested highway.

It is ludicrous! I am thankful that Maryland State Highway Administration limits these messages. I only wish they would limit them more.

Cindy Dahlke, Alexandria

DG: Actually, there’s much to be said for saying little — at least, on the message boards.

A Federal Highway Administration memo on the use of variable message signs offers some good guidance: The messages displayed “should be limited to managing travel, controlling and diverting traffic, identifying current and anticipated roadway conditions, or regulating access to specific lanes or the entire roadway.”

But the federal guidance also offers highway departments a little room to maneuver in offering drivers other meaningful and useful information. For example, “Providing travel time information is an excellent method of notifying motorists about current conditions in a manner that can be easily interpreted and understood.”

That’s pretty much the approach outlined to me by the Maryland highway administration when we started this conversation, and it makes sense. For the sign programs to be helpful, the messages should be limited to things they need to know at the moment they take their eyes from the road to read them.

 
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