Think you can come up with a better highway safety joke than a bureaucrat?

The Maine Department of Transportation wants to see you try.

Mainers have until March 18 to enter the My Maine Sign! contest and pitch their wittiest, snappiest message to display on digital roadside signs.

In recent years, LED-lit missives like “GET YOUR HEAD … OUT OF YOUR APPS” flashing on the sides of Maine’s four-lane highways have caught drivers’ eyes and provoked a grin or guffaw.

But coming up with a working quip is harder than it looks, said Maine DOT spokesman Ted Talbot.

“There are character limitations, and because of that, it really limits the creativity,” Talbot said. “We want it to be funny and smart but still effective to relay safety messaging, and that is a tough thing to do.”

The department has received almost 1,000 entries since it opened the contest on March 2. It is looking for three winners for its large sign displays, and 10 for its smaller signs.

Contestants can submit entries for both. Small signs have two pages, with three lines of text per page and up to eight characters per line.

Large messages only have one page, with three lines of text and up to 16 characters per line.

There are 48 small and six large signs posted along I-95, I-295 and I-195.

Contest entries have to reflect a highway safety theme such as impaired driving, wildlife, distracted driving, seatbelts, speeding or winter driving.

There is no limit on the number of entries per person.

Messages created and vetted by a handful of MDOT staffers have proven to be incredibly popular in Maine and other states, including Utah, Iowa and Massachusetts, which held a similar citizen-generated sign contest in 2014.

“If people are talking about messages, they are also talking about safety, which means we have done our job,” Talbot said.

Perennial favorites include “TEXTING AND DRIVING? OH CELL NO” and “NOT BUCKLED? WHAT’S HOLDING YOU BACK?”

On holidays, the department puts up special messages like “IT’S COLUMBUS DAY / DISCOVER YOUR TURN SIGNAL” or “SANTA SEES YOU … WHEN YOU’RE SPEEDING.”

A recent Superbowl-themed sign gave a nod to Patriots Nation – “87 IS GRONK’S NUMBER … NOT THE SPEED LIMIT.”

MDOT only runs humorous messages a few times a month. Most of the time the signs display information about winter weather, road conditions, delays or crashes.

Contest finalists can choose from prizes such as a ride to the top of the Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory, tickets from the Maine State Ferry Service or a vehicle pass to one of Maine’s state parks or the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray.

Any of the contest submissions may be used on the state message boards.

A winning entry for each sign size will be selected by a public vote and the winners will get a personalized street sign from the department as a grand prize.

Contestants can enter at www.maine.gov/mdot/contests/cms/.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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