Time to Vote in the TDOT Sign Contest

Time to Vote in the TDOT Sign Contest

Because the goal is saving lives, Tennessee is serious about making its highways and motorists smarter. “Serious,” though, doesn’t mean that teaching highway safety can’t be fun. Consider these dynamic highway sign messages:

  • Turn signals, the original instant messaging.
  • Get the cell off your phone and drive.
  • Practice safe text. Don’t do it while driving.
  • You’re in Tennessee. Volunteer to drive safe.
  • Ain’t nobody got time for a wreck. Slow it down.

Now consider that you – Tennesseans – wrote those messages, which appeared on the state’s 174 dynamic highway signs for a contest last year, including 20-plus signs on Nashville’s roads. The messages here were the top five from the nearly 3,000 submitted by the public. Tennesseans were the judges in the contest, too, with almost 4,000 votes cast on finalists chosen by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

The TDOT highway sign contest was so popular that it was resurrected this year for a third run, with submissions accepted online through Feb. 10. Voting begins Feb. 21, and the selection process is expected to end on March 10.

Start Thinking About Your Entry for Next Year

The contest rules are simple, and they are worth repeating because the contest could extend its run into 2018, so start thinking about what you might enter next year.

  • Choose your theme from one of five categories: speeding, distracted driving, impaired driving, seat belts, or aggressive driving.
  • Keep the message short: three lines of no more than 21 characters each. (Just the right size for a highway message board.)
  • Keep the message clean – nothing profane or lewd – and don’t use it to advertise. You can reference an event or, for instance, a movie, but don’t name it.

Message Contest Is TDOT’s SmartWay

The safety messages generated by this contest are presented to the public through TDOT’s SmartWay system. SmartWay uses four management centers, including one in Nashville, to oversee 517 cameras, 174 message signs, 1,015 roadway detection systems, and 49 video detection systems. That infrastructure can keep motorists informed on highway incidents, construction, and traffic. Messages on dynamic signs and camera’s-eye views of highways are part of it. Here is a closer look at the SmartWay tools:

  • HELP Freeway Service Patrols address minor incidents to help keep traffic moving in the state’s four major urban areas ─ Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga, and Knoxville.
  • The TN511 voice-activated phone system gives traffic and weather information.
  • Video surveillance cameras monitor freeways to provide TDOT real-time information on highway incidents, reducing response times.
  • Radar detection systems monitor traffic flow so TDOT can calculate travel times for routes and post the information on message boards.
  • Traffic sensors give traffic counts, speed, and travel time data that motorists get via message boards.
  • The dynamic message signs are positioned over interstate lanes to deliver traffic, construction, and other travel-related information – and to post safety messages written by Tennesseans.

The dynamic signs post grim messages, too. In 2012, Tennessee began using them to post traffic fatalities, making it the first state in the nation to do so. Safety was the inspiration, TDOT says:

This decision was made by TDOT officials after seeing a sharp increase in fatalities in the first quarter of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011. TDOT hoped by raising the public’s awareness, a positive impact on drivers’ behaviors could reverse the current trend. By the end of 2012, the rate of fatalities had slowed.

The Real Message from the Sign Contest

Safety is the driving force behind this contest, even if some people submitting messages are more interested in having their words up in lights , literally.

The message themes in the contest highlight critical highway safety issues, as shown by statistics from TDOT and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

Seat belts: An estimated 13,941 lives were saved by seat belts in 2015. Yes, almost 89 percent of Americans buckle up, but almost 28 million don’t.

Speeding: Killed 9,262 people on U.S. roads in 2014.

Distracted driving: This can be anything from putting on makeup to texting or tuning a radio while driving, and it killed 3,179 people on U.S. roads in 2014. Davidson County alone had 2,477 distracted driving crashes in 2014.

Impaired driving: Alcohol is a factor in about 1 in 3 traffic deaths in the United States. From 2003 through 2012, drunken driving accidents in Tennessee killed 3,423 people. Impaired driving includes drivers affected by prescription or recreational drugs such as marijuana. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data underscore the extent of that problem:

  • In 2014, over 1.1 million people were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.
  • Drugs other than alcohol (legal and illegal) are a factor in about 16 percent of crashes.
  • Marijuana use is increasing, and 13 percent of people involved in nighttime crashes on weekends have marijuana in their systems.
  • Marijuana users are about 25 percent more likely to be in a crash than drivers with no evidence of marijuana use. The CDC says age and gender may account for the elevated crash risk among marijuana users.

Aggressive driving: Like distracted driving, this covers a lot of ground. Speeding, for instance, is aggressive driving. NHTSA blames a lot of the increase in aggressive driving on population growth. Whatever the cause, the data on this can raise eyebrows:

  • 66 percent of crash fatalities result from aggressive driving.
  • 37 percent of road rage cases involve a firearm.
  • 218 murders and 12,610 injuries were attributed to road rage in one seven-year period.

If You Are Hurt in a Crash, Our Attorneys Are Here to Help

Since 1992, the Nashville law firm of Bill Easterly & Associates has built a solid reputation of dealing with personal injury cases, including automobile accidents. Our team knows and loves Nashville and is dedicated to serving communities throughout Tennessee.

Getting the word out about safety and things such as the TDOT highway sign contest is part of what we do because we truly care. We also are prepared to step in when the worst happens and your safety has been compromised.

Contact us today for a free case evaluation and to see how we can help you pursue the compensation and justice you deserve.


TDOT SmartWay
American Safety Council
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
NHTSA report
TDOT Safety Message Contest
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration