Motorists drive past a humorous Maine Department of Transportation safety message on the northbound lanes of I-295 near the Portland-Falmouth border in June 2017. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

U.S. Sen. Angus King is fighting to keep the fun in highway signs.

Some news reports said in January that the U.S. Federal Highway Administration would ban signs that incorporate humor or pop culture references by 2026. The federal agency, widely panned for spoiling the fun, later clarified that avoiding humor on such signs would be “recommended” and that no state would be banned from getting creative.

The highway administration said overhead electronic signs with obscure meanings, references to pop culture or those intended to be funny can be misunderstood or distract drivers. It said signs should be “simple, direct, brief, legible and clear,”

But King and other defenders of the puns and corny jokes say they work because people actually read them.

King wrote a letter Wednesday to Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, urging him to allow states to retain funny signs without consequences.

“I believe that implementing proven measures to reduce traffic deaths should be among the foremost responsibilities of the DOT,” King wrote. “However, that does not include a ban on signs which through humor or wit attempt to give their messages a bit of fresh tread; I hope we can avoid a head-on collision on this.”


Maine has continued posting pithy road signs, which are typically displayed on electronic message boards. On Wednesday, the Maine Department of Transportation gave a nod to Valentine’s Day with a new highway sign: “I think we click. Love, your seatbelt.”

Other Maine highway signs in recent years displayed messages such as, “Camp in the woods, not in the left lane” and “Santa sees you when you’re speeding.”

Paul Merrill, spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation, said Maine will continue to post humorous signs along the state’s highways because they work.

“We believe the signs are meeting the purpose of promoting safety,” Merrill said.

Officials in other states have pledged to continue the practice, too. Massachusetts has shown messages making fun of the New England accent, “Use Yah Blinkah,” while Ohio displayed a message with some prescient advice: “Visiting in-laws? Slow down, get there late.”

In his letter, King requested assurances from Buttigieg that federal transportation agencies “will not sanction or discourage, formally or informally, states which use humor or pop culture references while conveying an otherwise appropriate safety message” or withhold funding from states that continue to use the messages.

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