“Anything that takes a driver’s attention from the road is a potential hazard,” according to the website of the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles.
Then why does the Nevada Department of Transportation keep trying to unnecessarily draw drivers’ eyes off the road?
A few days ago I was driving on an interstate highway in Nevada and an overhead digital reader board had this message: “184 TRAFFIC DEATHS IN NEVADA IN 2016.”
Unless they are used for urgent messages, like hazardous driving conditions or (possibly) amber alerts, those boards should be dark. They should not be used for public service messages, however well-intentioned. Over the years I have written down numerous such messages:
“LEAVE SOONER/ DRIVE SLOWER/ LIVE LONGER”
“WILDFIRES HAPPEN/ REDUCE THE FUEL/ REDUCE THE RISK”
“EXPECT MOTORCYCLES/ LOOK TWICE”
“BE ALERT/ BE AWARE/ BE ALIVE”
“EMBRACE LIFE/ BUCKLE UP”
NDOT needs to embrace life by discontinuing these kinds of messages because they’re going to get people killed.
Where is the urgency to these messages? Buckle up? Is there a sentient being on this continent who has not previously read/heard/seen this message? Where did officialdom get the notion that repetition makes a message more effective? How did they NOT get the message that repetition makes messages lose their force?
The DMV website advises that there are three kinds of distractions that may endanger drivers – visual, manual, and cognitive. It’s the FIRST ONE LISTED, for crying out loud – visual.
Worse, there are messages posted over the freeways that actually require people to become more engaged than just reading, as with these ones that have appeared in Reno:
“RIDE RTC FREE/ ST PATRICK’S DAY/ 4 PM TO MIDNIGHT”
“FREE TRANSIT DAY/ JUNE 19/ BUS BIKE OR WALK”
What are the chances that NDOT giving drivers dates and times to remember will cause those drivers to feel around in pockets, purses, or center consoles for pen and paper?
What’s really amazing is that NDOT puts up messages to warn against distracted driving:
“NO TEXT/ IS WORTH/ THE RISK”
The text that appears over the highway IS worth the risk, apparently.
Then there are the messages, some of which appear on a different type of reader board, that tell how many minutes of driving time it is to the local airport or other landmark. It is usually in single digits, so it is pretty much useless, particularly to locals who know where local landmarks are and how long it takes to reach them.
Reader boards are not the only way NDOT endangers drivers and compromises state driving practices. Nothing is more dangerous on a freeway than driving too slowly. There are at least three Nevada laws I know of that make it illegal (Nevada revised statutes 484B.623, 484B.627, 484B.630) and it is a two-demerit offense.
Yet NDOT installs freeway on-ramp stoplights. The NDOT website reads, “When the signal turns green, one car per lane may leave the ramp and merge safely onto the freeway.” Sorry, but that’s a contradiction in terms. The only way to SAFELY merge into freeway traffic is at freeway speeds or something close to it. On-ramp stoplights stop traffic cold only a few feet from where drivers must insert their vehicles into freeway traffic.
And the stoplights impede emergency vehicles. I have a photo I took in 2013 from the top of an onramp looking down at the freeway. On the right is a steep hill where drivers cannot go. On the left is a shoulder that looms over the freeway. In the middle are two lanes of drivers stopped by the stoplights. On the shoulder is a police car, siren screaming and party hat flashing, unable to get to the freeway. The two lines of drivers heard the siren, didn’t know what to do, and froze in place. The police car tried to reach the freeway by the shoulder and ended up also frozen in place.
I have seen the same thing happen with ambulances, though not fire engines – yet.
Dennis Myers is an award-winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.