One year ago we editorialized about actions taken by government to make roads less safe (“Traffic offenses,” June 6, 2013). We commented on how stoplights at the bottom of on-ramps make it impossible for drivers to get up to speed in order to safely merge into freeway-speed traffic and how this hazardous situation is going to get someone killed. And we drew attention to the way traffic officials distract drivers from the road. It’s this last problem that we return to now.
Go to the website of the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles and you can read this: “With more portable technology now than ever, driver distractions have risen to unprecedented numbers. But cell phones aren’t the only problem. Drivers can be distracted by eating and drinking, grooming, tuning the radio or even talking to passengers. Anything that takes a driver’s attention from the road is a potential hazard.”
Such as, for example, those digital reader-boards the state puts up on area freeways.
First, there is the problem of those boards along the side of the freeway that tell drivers how many minutes away from various places they are. We repeat, how much value is there in a valley this compact to know that we are three minutes away from the airport? Enough value that it’s a good idea to draw the driver’s eyes off the road?
Second, and worse, there are the reader-boards over the freeway. These can and should serve a good purpose when there is urgent information to post to drivers about road conditions such as hazardous winds or chain requirements. But they are seldom used for that purpose. Here are some of the much more common messages they have borne:
LEAVE SOONER/ DRIVE SLOWER/ LIVE LONGER
WILDFIRES HAPPEN/ REDUCE THE FUEL/ REDUCE THE RISK
EXPECT MOTORCYCLES/ LOOK TWICE
EMBRACE LIFE/ BUCKLE UP
These aren’t urgent messages. They are barely messages. They are advertising slogans, of limited utility, and dangerous when they haul the eyes of drivers away from the rear end of that about-to-brake car ahead.
Some of them messages actually require time to absorb and understand and, perhaps, to grab a pencil and write down:
RIDE RTC FREE/ ST PATRICK’S DAY/ 4 PM TO MIDNIGHT
FREE TRANSIT DAY/ JUNE 19/ BUS BIKE OR WALK
Here’s one of the more interesting messages we’ve seen: NO TEXT/ IS WORTH/ THE RISK. Except, apparently, the text posted by government over the freeway to endanger our lives.
Then there’s this one: BE ALERT/ BE AWARE/ BE ALIVE. That may not be possible with these messages overhead to keep drivers alert to the wrong things and put them in life-threatening situations.
These messages, whatever good purpose they are intended to serve, do serve a very dangerous purpose and they should be done away with. Unless there is a genuinely pressing message needing attention on these reader-boards, leave them dark.