Three Tips for Variable Message Sign Preventative Maintenance

Dynamic message signs

Variable message signs are an important part of safe and reliable traffic control. Sometimes there is an alert that commuters need to be aware of, that you just cannot convey through typical static roadside signs. A few instances where variable message signs make traffic flow easier is there there is roadwork ahead, when high winds are requiring drivers to proceed with caution, and when high traffic is slowing commute times. These are situations that are often unexpected, so they do not warrant a permanent sign, but they help drivers make route decisions or pay extra attention to the roadways.

If you work for the Department of Transportation, you are aware that variable message signs require a little more forethought and care than your typical “Exit 298” sign though. Since dynamic message signs require energy to operate, you need to decide if grid powered dynamic message signs or solar powered variable message signs are best for the area they are intended. While static signs have a pretty tried-and-true placement guideline, the unique nature of dynamic message signs require consideration for the placement and the proper messaging use.

But we aren’t here to talk about those factors. We’re here to take about the factor that you will end up focusing on the most with your dynamic message signs: preventative maintenance. In order to get the use and lifespan out of the variable message signs, you have to care for them. We’ve put together a quick go-to preventative maintenance guide for your convenience:

  1. Stay On Top of Regular Inspections

    If something went wrong with your dynamic message signs, how long would it take you to realize it? If you make it a routine point to give your signs a once-over, you’ll be able to catch many issues before they turn into showstoppers. And if there were a reason that your signs stopped working altogether, your routine inspections would catch it much faster than if you’re expecting a commuter to contact you and tell you that they aren’t seeing the message they didn’t know you were trying to display.

  2. Make a Checklist of Common Issues to Look At During Inspections

    The best way to avoid big problems with your message signs is to look at all the dumb little things that could cause a big problem down the road. In the course of your regular inspections, make yourself a checklist of factors to look at:

    • Is the sign or any of its components corroded?
    • Are all the electrical connections in place and free of any damage? (It’s a good idea to include a wiring diagram on your checklist. The staff member doing the inspection may not realize that something is not plugged where it should be, unless they have a diagram of the proper wiring).
    • Has the dirt and dust that inevitably builds up inside the message board been thoroughly cleaned?
    • Is the message board vibrating or behaving in any unusual way? Even if the board is still operating, if it is acting funny, it might be a sign that it needs a repair before it goes down altogether.

  3. Stay On Top of Updates

    You might grow to feel like your dynamic message sign has a mind of its own, but really it is just the product of the 0s and 1s that it is programmed with. That software needs to be updated on the regular, or it will get buggy and start to go on the fritz. When the software that tells your dynamic message sign stops working as it should, the whole sign goes down.

    Do yourself a favor and update the software and firmware as recommended by the provider, when it has no problem at all. You shouldn’t start brushing your teeth just when you have a cavity; if you brush your teeth all along, you’ll avoid cavities altogether. Likewise, don’t wait until your sign is spazzing out to update the software. If you stay on top of updates as they are rolled out, you’ll avoid the sign-cavities altogether.

In our modern age, everything is smart. We have smart phones, smart cars, smart electric grids. Smart traffic messaging signs is an obvious use of our technological advances. However, unlike metal signs that you post and forget, dynamic messaging signs require maintenance. These guidelines will help you stay on top of it.

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