If during your morning or afternoon commute, you glance up at one of the many big glowing signs, positioned around the 440 loop and on highways across the state, you’ll see a message alerting drivers to the amount of traffic fatalities in Tennessee this year. As of press time, that number was 425 and, unfortunately, always rising. (If you glance a little longer — why are you still looking away from the road? — you’ll see another message from the state’s Department of Transportation: a warning about distracted driving. For the sake of irony, please don’t have an accident while reading about distracted driving.)
This Digital Messaging Signage — the technical term, we’re told — is funded by the Federal Highway Administration. It is generally used to remind drivers of ongoing road policies: “Click it or Ticket” for example, or “Booze it, Lose It.” But in recent months, road fatality statistics have been added to the mix. While the 151 signs only appear in urban highway areas, the number reflects every traffic death, whether on a highway, a city road or a driveway.
TDOT Highway Safety Office director Kendell Poole told The City Paper the decision to add the statistics to the signs was prompted by an uptick in fatalities. A record low 947 people died on Tennessee’s roads in 2011. But over the first three months of 2012, there were about 50 more deaths than in the same months last year. After seeing road deaths decrease by 33 percent over the last seven years, Poole said, the department didn’t want to see the trend reversed. He believes the signs have had a positive effect, so far.
It goes without saying, of course, that users of TDOT’s forthcoming smartphone traffic app should avoid doing so on the road.