Minnesota’s highway reports get a plain-language makeover

Prompted by an executive order from Gov. Mark Dayton, Minnesota’s online highway condition reports have gotten a plain-language makeover. Now motorists who access the state’s 511 Traveler Information millions of times via computer or mobile phone may learn that their routes are “partially covered” with winter precipitation rather than see the old term “fair.”

MnDOT says some people thought “fair” meant “good” — the old best rating — which has been replaced by “normal,” now defined as “Dry or wet pavement. May include icy bridge decks.”

Are we clear now? The changes followed Dayton’s order last March for the state to communicate in plain language “commonly understood by the public” and to “write in short and complete sentences.” This will “provide Minnesotans better state services by reducing confusion, saving time and improving customer satisfaction,” Dayton noted.

OK, customers, in addition to the new “normal” and “partially covered,” the old “difficult” was scrapped in favor of “completely covered” with slippery stuff that “completely obscures the pavement markings [making] travel difficult and hazardous.” When it gets worse than that, the old “Travel not advised” and “Closed” apparently were clear enough already. They remain unchanged.

Some states MnDOT studied before making the changes used as many as 15 descriptions. Unlike the Eskimos, however, Minnesotans apparently don’t have very many words for frozen or crystallized rain. The five chosen were copied from Iowa.

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