The Arizona Department of Transportation’s recent efforts to add a little fun to its traffic safety messaging is a nice model for all kinds of messaging for public-transportation agencies and advocates. Efforts such as messaging contests for the public and using pop-culture references in highway digital signage have created massive new social-media audiences for the agency, growing its influence considerably.
Drivers in Arizona may have noticed a quirky addition in their highway commutes. “DRINKING & DRIVING GO TOGETHER LIKE PEAS & GUAC,” read one sign in November 2015 normally used for Amber Alerts and traffic information. After that came Star Wars references, “TRUST THE FORCE BUT ALWAYS BUCKLE UP.”
Adele, Pokémon and the movie Elf have each had their own sign, as well as a sign for each holiday.
Now, a little more than a year later, ADOT has enjoyed a growing social media presence and is wrapping up its first “safety message contest.” The contest, which received more than 6,700 submissions according to ADOT, was narrowed down to 20 finalists. Voters spent first two weeks of March deciding which two would flash overhead in April.
Doug Pacey (pictured), a spokesperson for ADOT, said the department’s social media presence has grown considerably as of late. This increase in social media notoriety is, in part, thanks to the safety message signs, Pacey said. ADOT now has over 165,000 Twitter followers, an increase from 56,000 just over two years ago. Its Facebook page boasts nearly 40,000 likers. Its Twitter has the second most followers of any transportation department in the country, following Washington State. Pacey said the messages were a spin-off from Iowa’s Department of Transportation, which had been displaying quirky or funny messages for about a year.
The “peas and guac” message was a jab at a recipe from The New York Times that recommended people to add peas to their guacamole. The recipe was met with criticism from all corners of the internet.
“We kind of jumped in the pool with these safety messages, we didn’t dip our toe in with that one and it was really well received,” Pacey said. “It was popular, most people really enjoyed it and liked it and the important thing is it got people talking about drinking and driving.”
Pacey said the importance of the messages has been the conversation that it leads to regarding safe driving. A plain old message is white-noise, this grabs people’s attention according to Pacey.