Whenever bad weather, construction projects or accidents interrupt the regular flow of traffic, dynamic message signs connect with motorists to increase awareness. Agencies rely on this technology for traffic mitigation and safety when they are needed most.
But on a normal day — and to the chagrin of many skeptical taxpayers – these displays are most often left blank.
The public might see a blank DMS and pass it off as misuse (or non-use) of ITS technology. This misunderstanding is a common frustration for the people who run these systems and understand their DMS better than anyone driving past them.
In the ITS world, two opposing philosophies drive the decision to show or not show content during neutral periods.
Philosophy: Don’t Cry Wolf
On one hand, constantly showing non-situational content might condition drivers to ignore the displays over time. So, some agencies simply leave their DMS blank until they are needed for incident management. This “don’t cry wolf” philosophy is followed by those who want to make sure that drivers heed the emergency messages when safety is needed most.
In addition to the attention factor, agencies might also save electricity and display lifetime by letting them rest. Other cost-focused managers might be led to think that fewer messages = fewer man hours at the control station = fewer dollars.
The downside to this practice is (sometimes extreme) negative public perception. Some taxpayers might wonder if the DMS are worth the investment if they are left off most of the time.
Tight budgets, conservative equipment usage and time savings fuel this approach.
Philosophy: Cry for Safety
On the other hand, agencies such as the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) use downtime to show relevant integrated traffic data, variable speed limits and PSAs for safe driving.
Let’s face it: These days, there’s always plenty to say about roadway safety – even during neutral periods. Whether it’s to warn motorists of distracted driving or to remind them to buckle up, these messages can make a very helpful impact on any route.
Recently, ITD has shown simple thought-provoking messages such as “Are you mindful of other drivers?” in addition to Amber™ alerts as another public service. This approach reflects the agency’s desire to make an active, thoughtful connection with motorists.
The right mix of quality equipment, data integration and foresight contribute to the success of this philosophy.
What’s Your Message
Ultimately, motorists drive more than their vehicles. While public perception plays a strong part in the use of DMS, agencies are also stressed by limited budgets and bandwidth. This is why I encourage our clients to be as active as possible with their DMS content. Ask your motorists what they expect to see. You’ll get a variety of answers, but you’ll also get insight. The right message at the right time can make a very positive impact.
With either philosophy, the right technology will help you reach your goals. It’s about timeliness, reliability and longevity. Agencies want to be timely with their DMS messages, they want reliable equipment so they’ll always be able to adapt and they want systems that endure the test of time.
Daktronics is interested in your DMS content philosophy. No matter how you apply your DMS, we’re always ready to talk.