Sunday, January 11, 2015

Did You See that Sign?

Anyone cruising rural or urban highways has spotted a diamond shaped, bright yellow sign featuring a leaping whitetail buck. These deer crossing emblems alert drivers to potential car/deer collisions, and they’ve led to humorous incidents as well.

Curious sorts who google leaping buck logos discover references to a letter asking in seeming sincerity why the Department of Transportation doesn’t move those deer crossings to areas with less traffic. The well-intended writer points out doing so would reduce accidents. This little joke has made it to You Tube and other mainstream media sources. I suspect comedians like Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy have gotten some laughs at this concerned citizen’s expense. 

When I typed in “history of deer crossing signs,” I wasn’t looking for a funny story. I wanted to know why the antlers  are backward. I don’t know when it first occurred to me that these illustrations are incorrect, but I’ve known it for decades and enjoyed informing less observant friends of this mistake. It seems to me that if feds hire an artist to create a sign used across the nation, someone would make sure this specialist knows what a buck looks like in silhouette. 

What I found, in addition to the lady’s letter wondering why the DOT guides deer to cross busy roads was numerous responses noting the backward antlers and accompanying answers. Some folks don’t think the antlers are reversed. Those writers feel the sign correctly represents a whitetail buck, which makes me wonder how close those people have been to these critters. Practical sorts remind complainers that people crossing signs aren’t anatomically accurate either. Who has a gap between his  body and a Charlie Brown-style round head?

Finally, I found a response that addressed my question, which was why wasn’t the artist familiar with deer anatomy. If the explanation is correct, this has to be one of the longest lasting public acts of insubordination in the United States of America.

According to one citation on, the artist didn’t feel appreciated. As a result, he or she created the backward antler sign to see how long it would take someone to notice. Based on the article, it was ten years before anyone even contacted the department responsible for codifying highway signs. By then, thousands of these inaccurate emblems marked public roadways, where they remain today. If this is true, I hope the illustrator found a more satisfying line of work.

These warnings have finally been around long enough to require replacement in some places. When we visited Rocky Mountain National Park in September, we noticed a few new signs alerting drivers to the possibility of deer crossing the road. To my relief, these new ones represent white tail antler anatomy correctly or as much as it can be in silhouette on a bright yellow background. 

I’m glad someone noticed and is making sure new signage isn’t a successful act of insubordination or of poor editing in the graphics department. I am going to miss seeing the incorrect ones and chuckling at this national boo boo. Maybe our government will offer old ones at a surplus auction so we can decorate the garage wall with a fond memory.

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