This Labor Day, beware of confusing signs

Published 10:22 am Friday, September 2, 2016

by Peter Funt

Highway signs along Interstate 80 in Utah warn: FOG MAY BE ICY.

That baffled me, not only because during my summer road trip temperatures hovered near 100, but because I’d be at a loss to decipher the message even in the dead of winter. Frozen fog? Is that something you worry about skidding on, or slamming into?

There’s an area off I-80 marked: REST STOP. NO LOITERING.

Really? I’d say it’s just about impossible to rest without loitering. In fact, resting and loitering are practically synonymous.

In eastern Nevada there’s a sign that I’ve seen in various parts of the country and can never figure out: LOW FLYING AIRCRAFT.

Is this warning for motorists or pilots? As I see it, if a 737 is flying at an altitude of, say, four-and-a-half feet, then it’s got bigger problems than a road sign is capable of correcting.

It seems we have more highway signs than ever — including an abundance of new digital signs that allow authorities to update messages instantly. Who’s writing these messages anyway? And why don’t they make more sense?

At several spots on I-80 in Wyoming I saw the digital advisory: HIGH FIRE DANGER UNTIL 8 P.M.

After which, what? It rains? Doesn’t the sign operator know that high fire danger is not the same as high tide? You can’t check a chart to determine when it ends.

I was in Fort Lee, New Jersey about to pull onto the ramp to the George Washington Bridge, when I saw a digital sign: DELAYS ON BRIDGE. CONSIDER ALTERNATE ROUTE.

Was I to somehow back off the ramp and drive 8 miles south to the Lincoln Tunnel? Drive nearly 22 miles north to the Tappan Zee Bridge? Rent a boat?

Last summer I saw a digital sign on the New York State Thruway: MISSING ADULT. LIGHT BLUE FORD.

Listen, I consider myself a Samaritan. I understand the need for Amber Alerts when kids are abducted — even if the odds of them being in the car next to me are remote. But a missing adult? Well, maybe he or she wandered away from an institution and then…I don’t know, was picked up by a digital sign-writer in a light blue Ford.

During the time it took me to process the advisory I probably saw half a dozen blue Fords. So, then what? I call 911?

On I-5 just south of Sacramento I ran into unexpectedly heavy traffic. Perhaps there was an accident up ahead. Luckily, I saw a digital sign in the distance.

Now, here’s a case in which the marvel of modern technology can be put to good use to provide motorists with critical, timely information.

As I inched close enough to read it, the sign said: A CLEANER CALIFORNIA IS UP TO YOU.

PETER FUNT is a writer and speaker. His book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at and