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MassDOT posts driver safety messages with a twist

The Mass DOT has posted Star Wars themed messages on electronic billboards along highways, including this one.Jim Davis/Globe staff

You'd better not text, you'd better just drive, and be sure to drive safely, state officials are telling you why: It's the law.

To get the message across, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation this week has posted holiday-themed witticisms on electronic highway signs statewide. The clever sayings remind drivers to pay attention and abide by the rules of the road.

One message reads, "Don't be a Grinch: Drive Safely," a reference to the Dr. Seuss classic, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

A second electronic message warns motorist to keep their hands off of their smartphones — and their eyes on the road — during the busy holiday travel season.


"Texting Will Get You on the Naughty List," the message says.

Being naughty would be the least of a driver's problems if caught by police while texting, however. Composing, sending, or reading an electronic message while driving can lead to a $100 fine for a first offense, and significantly more for subsequent offenses.

"The underlining message is a serious one, and a public safety one. But if we can also get people to have smiles on their faces, and think about what they can do to change their driving behaviors to keep themselves, their families, and other motorists safe, then we are all for it," said Thomas J. Tinlin, MassDOT's highway administrator.

The phrases first appeared Monday and will be visible on more than 500 message boards.

Tinlin said the messages are meant to steer away from the traditional warnings posted on the digital signs and grab drivers' attention as they zip along highways to attend family gatherings and other festivities.

"People are making multiple trips on the holidays," said Tinlin. "We have a lot of eyes on these boards, and we wanted to give a little gentle reminder to drivers to focus on safety, the road, and their surroundings."


Tinlin said during regular MassDOT meetings, state officials often spitball ideas about how to add a touch of humor to peoples' commutes. Following the brainstorming sessions, they pick a few finalists, and then rotate those messages on the signs.

"It turns into a little bit of a 'Saturday Night Live' writers meeting, because everyone is trying to one-up each other," said Tinlin.

The state first found success with injecting humor into messages when it launched a campaign last year that gave a nod to the Boston accent. "Use Yah Blinkah" the signs read.

The current holiday messages will stay up through Christmas. As of Wednesday afternoon, the state had added a “Star Wars” quip to the mix. “Trust the Force, But Buckle Up,” the message said. Tinlin said it’s possible that more like it will appear in the New Year.

"Be on the lookout. You never know when Yoda will come out with a very profound message," he said. "We have a couple of surprises for folks, and we are hoping they enjoy it, and they smile, but that it also makes them drive safely."

Be on the lookout, we will.

A highway sign on Route 93 southbound.Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff

Steve Annear can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.