CLEVELAND - If you were driving your DeLorean at 88 miles per hour down an Ohio highway last weekend, you were probably going way too fast to notice the Doc Brown-inspired safety messages on the electronic billboards around the area.
Over 130 freeway message boards around the state featured the message: “Great Scott! Watch your speed McFly,” which, for you millennials, is a reference to the 1985 film "Back to the Future" starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd.
The message was submitted by Thomas McCreanor of St. Bernard via the Ohio Department of Transportation’s new “Zero Deaths” website, focusing on reducing highway deaths to zero.
Residents can submit their ideas for messages to display on ODOT boards across the state here. The submission has a character limit: 17 characters for each of the three available lines - 51 characters total.
Since 2015, ODOT has been mixing it up with attention-grabbing safety messages, said Matt Bruning, the department's press secretary. He said the goal of the program was to break up the stale and cliche traffic safety messages we've all heard for years, such as "Click it or ticket," "You booze, you lose" and "Drive sober, get pulled over."
A committee of officials from ODOT, Ohio Department of Public Safety, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration choose the messages that appear, and they often match the messages to holidays (e.g. "Santa sees you when you're speeding" and "Turkey says buckle buckle") and other calendar events, Bruning said.
Last year, ODOT opened it up the public by allowing anyone to submit an idea for a message. While they get some great ideas, Bruning said some are a little too edgy for the public, such as "Get your head out of your apps." That one did get a laugh around the department, he said.
While Bruning admits there's no way to measure the exact success of the program, he shared one story of a message having an effect in the northeast Ohio area. He said a driver on I-90 in Lake County saw that another driver noticed a sign that read, "That seatbelt looks good on you." The driver and passenger then buckled their own seatbelts.
There were 1,177 traffic fatalities in Ohio in 2017, a 4 percent increase over the previous year, according to ODOT. Preventable traffic deaths have risen in Ohio for four years in a row.