Show-me Humor. Missouri Stands up to Humorless Feds


This is NOT a joke: Federal government killjoys have declared:

Jokes are hazardous to our health.

But in my home state, Missouri, bureaucrats are taking a stand against federal tyranny.

Here’s the story…

In December, the Federal Highway Administration released the 11th edition of the “Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways” — popularly known as “MUTCD”

The manual is 1,113 pages long — not including appendices and the 36-page Table of Contents.

On page 519 (Section 2L.07-04), the feds issue “guidance” regarding electronic changeable message signs (CMS). Here’s an excerpt of the critical section, (displayed for humorous effect in Comic Sans font):

A CMS should not be used to display a traffic safety campaign message if doing so could adversely affect respect for the sign. Messages with obscure or secondary meanings, such as those with popular culture references, unconventional sign legend syntax, or that are intended to be humorous, should not be used as they might be misunderstood or understood only by a limited segment of road users and require greater time to process and understand.

I imagine FHA’s MUTCD authors lying awake at night, picturing drivers who read some punny announcement on a CMS.

The innocent drivers burst out laughing…

….pound the steering wheel…

…repeat the joke (“GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR APPS!” 😂 😂 😂 😂 😂 😂 😂 😂 😂 😂)…


…BAMMM!!!!!! 💥

…another CMS-induced fender-bender.

(Oh, the horror!)

Or, worse yet, the MUTCD authors imagine a driver seeing a humorous CMS (“VISITING IN-LAWS? SLOW DOWN AND GET THERE LATE”)…

…who concludes…

“…I cannot respect this highway sign because of its juvenile sense of humor…

…In fact, I no longer can respect traffic regulations in general.”

(It’s the end of the world as we know it 😱)


Thank goodness for wise and brave bureaucrats like Jon Nelson, the assistant to the state highway traffic engineer at the Missouri Department of Transportation.

He said MUCTD’s directives are guidelines, not requirements…

…and Missouri will continue dishing humor on its CMSs.

“We try to do it in ways that will maybe resonate with people while they’re driving, stick with them as they pass the sign,” he said. “Hopefully, they remember that for a few days and if we can do that through wit and humor those are tactics that we like to use to spread that safety message.”


Humor sticks!

That’s true on changeable message signs.

That’s true in your marketing copy.

Too many business people think like the MUTCD authors. They think humor has no place in their important business content. “If I’m funny, my audience won’t respect me,” they think.

Smart marketers think like Jon Nelson. They know:

Humor makes a message more memorable.
Humor builds bonds.

So joke on content creators. Your audience will still respect you the next morning.

And you’ll laugh all the way to the bank.

Don't go away yet..

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Tom Ruwitch

Tom Ruwitch is the founder and CEO of Story Power Marketing. For more than 30 years, he has helped businesses grow by delivering powerful stories using a variety of different media.