Huge distraction? Study: Digital billboards keep eyes off road (copy)

Drivers on Interstate 526 pass by a digital billboard. Billboards, church signs and headstones sometimes serve as interesting reading material. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

When not driving down the road and looking at your phone, it may surprise you to learn there are so many other things vying for your attention: Billboards, traffic signals, message boards, business signs, church announcements, school fundraisers, restaurant specials ... the list goes on and on.

I see a lot of them, but I really don’t. Does that make sense? Most of them make little impact. The ones I remember are those that make me think, or make me smile. A clever twist on a phrase or one with an unexpected punch line always delivers.

Churches often seem to catch my eye. I’m not talking about a notice regarding which service begins when. A church sign that gets my attention uses the quick opportunity to make an impression or deliver a message in the moment. Here’s an example: "Whoever stole our AC units, keep one, it’s hot where you’re going."

That’s to the point, don’t you think? Not too preachy, but certainly clear on how somebody feels about a recent theft.

Here’s another that provides food for thought: "Forbidden fruit creates many jams."

Again, cleverly worded and thought-provoking.

'Sign, sign, everywhere a sign'

A Canadian rock group released a song more than 40 years ago about signs. One of the lyrics took the establishment to task with this admonishment: “Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind. Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign.”

Signage on the interstate has gotten a little more creative. Some messages change every four or five seconds. A study somewhere, probably says that’s about the amount of time our brains need to digest information at 70 mph.

Of course, if you’re on Interstate 95, you’re apt to get a little annoyed with Pedro’s pronouncements regarding how much longer ‘till you reach South of the Border. That’s a different style of messaging altogether — you remember the product, but for the wrong reasons.

Even the Department of Transportation is using signs on some of our highways to alert us to various problems ahead. I’m not altogether sure that decreases congestion or whether it just forces drivers to start looking on their phones for alternative routes.

Dearly departed

You may find this a little morbid, but you know where some of the most creative signage is found? That’s right, on tombstones.

There’s limited space, so the words must be carefully chosen. It also lets those who walk by get a sneak peak into who that person was.

Example: A Mr. Roberts who died in 1979 had this inscribed, "I told you I was sick."

Here are a couple others that might leave a smile:

"The shell is here, but the nut is gone."

Or, "This ain’t bad once you get used to it."

An 85-year-old woman tells us a little bit about her sense of humor when her gravestone says, "If you’re reading this, you desperately need a hobby."

Charleston has a large number of cemeteries, but most grave sites don’t carry such poignant pronouncements. The majority are what you might expect — date of birth, date of death and maybe a few words denoting military service or possibly saying the deceased was a loving wife, devoted husband or liked to fish.

This epitaph is sure to always get a groan: "I made a lot of good deals in my life, but I really went into the hole on this one."

Some of the more creative headstone rhymes are out west when men with a quick trigger or a slow draw lived by their wits. Here’s such a departed pardner: "Here lies Lester Moore; four slugs from a .44; no Les no more."

Yeah, churches and cemeteries certainly seem to offer more than a few signs that cause us to pause and reflect. I recently saw two different messages speaking to the dangers of choosing the wrong destination.

The church sign said: "To get nowhere, follow the crowd."

A graveside headstone honoring a husband and wife offered this word of caution: "To follow you I’ll not consent, Until I know which way you went."

Reach Warren Peper at peperwarren@gmail.com.