Role of Highway Signs in Successful Awareness Campaigns

Summers are here, and so is the travelling season. As more and more people are taking the highway for their road trips, road safety has become a matter of special attention for states. Wear-your-seatbelt awareness campaigns, especially, have been rejuvenated in many states. Currently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is running two seat belt campaigns- “Click It or Ticket” and “Buckle Up America”.

Road safety campaigns work in tandem with highway signs. And, all these summer months, motorists are going to encounter a lot of highway signs en route. But, not many would know, such signs have been a driving force in road safety campaigns since the 1970s.

Vintage Buckle Up Sign

Safety slogans like this are used as highway signage since 1970 [Image via eBay]

Seat belt usage

The very-popular-today Click It or Ticket campaign started about two decades ago and has been very successful in enforcing the seat belt law in America. The NHTSA calls it “the most successful seat belt enforcement campaign ever” that helped “increase the national seat belt usage rate.” Click it or Ticket is a model social marketing program that displays the power of communication outreach.

Click It or Ticket Sign in California

A Click It or Ticket sign in California [Image via Wikimedia Commons]

A similar awareness campaign in Britain that started with a slogan, “Clunk click, every trip”, back in 1971 got a great response. The campaign starring Sir Jimmy Savile reminded motorists of two important things while driving: ‘clunk’ (the sound of door shutting) and ‘click’ (the sound of fastening seatbelt) during every trip. The Clunk Click slogan became very popular and was successful in persuading people to buckle up. BBC reports, “Department of Transport figures show that advertising raised the percentage of drivers and front seat passengers wearing seatbelts to 37 and 39% by 1982.”

Drunk driving prevention

Drunk driving prevention campaigns have evolved from ‘Drinking & Driving Can Kill A Friendship’ and ‘Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk’ in 1983 to ‘Drive Sober Or Get Pulled Over’ and ‘Buzzed Driving is Drunk Driving’ of today.

Drinking Driving Can Kill a Friendship Sign

In 1998, America experienced its lowest number of alcohol-related fatalities (since the US DOT began keeping records) due to successful drunk driving prevention campaigns [Image via Duke University]

Forest fire prevention

The longest running Public Awareness Campaign in Ad Council’s history, Smokey Bear and his message “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires,” was a great hit. It reduced the number of acres of land lost due to fires annually from 22 million to 8.4 million (in 2000).

Smokey Bear Campaign Sign

The United State Forest Service created Smokey Bear to educate people and children about the danger of forest fires back in 1944. [Image by SmokeyZone]

Beyond road safety

Signs have been an important tool in hundreds of successful campaigns, one being the hit ‘Don’t Mess with Texas’. The campaign started in the 1980s by the Texas Department of Transportation (DOT) to keep the state clean and litter-free. The slogan means ‘throw your trash in a trashcan’ and began from Texas highways, but is now popular nationwide.

Don't Mess With Texas Sign

A slogan that has caught up with everyone: Don’t Mess With Texas [Image by So Max O]

Desktop icons, litterbags, stickers, or decals – you can find the ‘Don’t Mess with Texas’ message everywhere. In a survey conducted by the Texas DOT, 95 percent of Texans recognize the slogan. Forty eight percent of the respondents came across the ‘Don’t Mess with Texas’ slogan on street or highway signs.

The slogan, however, started being used more in trash talking and braggadocio over the time. Youngsters today get the message printed on personalized T-Shirts, mugs, and keychains as a symbol of bravado. Therefore, the Texas
DOT decided to revive the campaign to ensure that people remember the slogan is actually about not littering Texas.

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