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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Getting There: Coming soon to a reader board near you - holiday reminders to not drink or text and drive

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 19, 2019

Rudolph was lit that foggy Christmas Eve.

Even so, jolly Kriss Kringle still let him guide the sleigh. Maybe the jolliness came because Claus was lit as well, throwing into doubt his questionable decision to let a tormented amateur save the day and make history. Like George Washington.

Regardless, this holiday season the Washington State Department of Transportation is having fun with the reindeer fable in an attempt to get motorists to drive safely and soberly.

“Only Rudolph drives lit! You shouldn’t,” reads one message motorists on some state roads will see.

While all in good fun, the campaign has one simple point, said Glenn Wagemann, a traffic engineer with WSDOT.

“You want to hit them right here,” he said, pointing to his chest and heart. “We want to have a positive message with a positive action.”

The campaign to occasionally replace the staid “DUI emphasis patrol” and “Amber Alert” messages with reminders to drive safe is a demonstration project that began with a collaboration between WSDOT, the Washington State Patrol and Washington State University. The #BeSafeCougs campaign began as a way to get the attention of students behind the wheel during especially busy times of year.

The vast majority of collisions involving students on State Route 26 between Colfax and Vantage involve deer, thus the seasonal sign that warns of “Reindeer Crossing Ahead.”

The rest are preventable. Distracted driving accounts for 17% of the collisions, right-of-way and unsafe passing led to 7%, and sleeping behind the wheel makes up the remaining 7%.

“There were several serious and fatal accidents on 195 related to students,” Wagemann said. “It’s not necessarily that it was the students’ fault, but students were involved.”

Getting students to pay attention and reminding them they’re behind the wheel and shouldn’t be texting were the primary goals.

“If we’re going to grab students’ attention, we have to do it in a way they’re going to grasp,” Wagemann said.

The campaign put up the first reader board during last year’s Apple Cup, which pits the WSU Cougars against the University of Washington Huskies. The football game took place in Pullman, and on the way there, motorists saw signs that read, “Cougs don’t let Dawgs text and drive.”

Wagemann said it had the effect of attracting the eye and delivering a quick reminder.

“Any time you put up a lit-up sign out there, and you’re driving along, you instantaneously have a reaction,” he said. “But it’s a matter of, how quick is the message?”

This Christmas, the messages are quick:

“Ralphie put down phone, you’ll txt your eye out,” reads one, referencing the 1983 film “A Christmas Story.” As does this one: “Life is fra-gee-lay. Slow down.”

“Santa is watching. Put down your phone.”

“Get ho ho home safe.”

“Wise men don’t text and drive.”

Wise men do keep their eyes peeled, though. Wagemann said WSDOT won’t leave the signs up for long.

“If it’s there every day, it becomes white noise, people ignore it,” he said.

The WSU student-focused signs went up last Wednesday and are coming down Monday. They’ll be back from Jan. 9 to Jan. 14. The idea is to have them up during the beginning and end of the school term, and during big travel weekends, like Thanksgiving and Apple Cup.

This year, for the first time, the eastern region of WSDOT is putting the messages up on the permanent information signs on Interstate 90 – boards usually reserved for Amber and Silver alerts and warnings of DUI patrols. If the project goes well, motorist information signs across the land will have silly, if serious, messages for drivers.

Ryan Overton, a WSDOT spokesman, said he’s excited about the prospect, and noted the WSU signs have had a “big-time effect, which has been great to see.” Social media posts about the signs get much higher engagement than other posts, he said, which he guessed is probably true for motorists as well.

“Putting these messages out there gets people talking. If I see a message out there that says, ‘DUI emphasis patrols,’ I’m not going to go home and say, ‘Hey, guess what I saw,’” he said. “But if we use them for public messaging and safety-related things, and if we can impact just one person, then we’ve done our job.”

And we’ll all shout out with glee.

Lyft and area agencies combat drunk driving

Last week, traffic safety officials began haunting Spokane-area bars, handing out $10 Lyft discount codes to encourage sober rides home this holiday season.

Representatives from Washington’s Liquor and Cannabis Board collaborated with Lyft drivers to hand out the $10 coupons, funded by a state Highway Safety Association grant awarded to the Washington Traffic Safety Commission.

A thousand discount codes are available, and they’ll be divvied out through the holidays. The discount is limited to the first 1,000 people who add the code to their Lyft app, and they’ll be valid until Feb. 3.

The Lyft offer comes as law enforcement begins DUI emphasis patrols. From now until Jan. 2, more than 145 law enforcement agencies around the state will be looking for motorists under the influence of alcohol, cannabis or other substances.

Lincoln open for winter

Construction on the 2.2-million gallon stormwater tank by the downtown Spokane Public Library continues, but is nearing the end. Lincoln Street between Main Avenue and Spokane Falls Boulevard has been closed or had its way reversed for nearly three years, but on Friday a temporary southbound lane opened for the winter.

Editor’s note: This story was changed on Dec. 17 to reflect where the majority of deer collisions take place. It was also changed to correct the spelling of Kriss Kringle.

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