A new 1,100-page U.S. Federal Highway Administration manual includes a proposed ban on “humorous,” “obscure” and “popular culture” references on electronic road signs by 2026, saying “nonstandard syntax” may be misunderstood and create hazards for the drivers those signs are designed to protect.

That, the FHWA said, is because some drivers don’t get the joke — or, the pop culture reference — and miss the intended safety message.

The 11th edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways, the first major update since 2009, features an array of new safety guidelines proposed by the FHWA and the U.S. Department of Transportation, all intended, the executive summary in the manual said, “to securing a future without serious roadway injuries or fatalities.” The summary said the new proposed rules are “guided” by the National Roadway Safety Strategy measures released in January 2022.

The rule changes for electronic signage are being mandated, the FHWA said, because signs in some states and locales are posting safety warnings and messages that are often misunderstood.

A report by The Associated Press said some examples of such sings include: “Use Yah Blinkah” in Massachusetts; “Visiting in-laws? Slow down, get there late” in Ohio; and “Hocus-pocus, drive with focus” in New Jersey.

A spokesman for the New York State Department of Transportation Region 10 office for Long Island, Stephen Canzoneri, said Monday: “We are reviewing the new policy.”

In the manual, released this week, the FHWA said those messages “with obscure meaning, references to popular culture, that are intended to be humorous, or otherwise use nonstandard syntax for a traffic control device” shouldn’t be displayed because “they can be misunderstood or understood only by a limited segment of road users, and, therefore, degrade the overall effectiveness of the sign as an official traffic control device.”

The FHWA said that “only traffic safety campaign messages that are part of an active, coordinated safety campaign” should be displayed on electronic roadside signage as a result.

The FHWA said that while some feedback from public forums requested “more flexibility” in wording when it comes to safety messaging, the overall findings were that the new regulations would “help stem” what was viewed as “overuse or inappropriate uses” of electronic signage — and that standardization would lead to safer roads.

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