“Don’t Mess with Texas”: How it all started

Don't Mess with Texas“Don’t Mess with Texas”—it’s a little strange and even scary when you see this phrase on a huge road sign in front of you. Billboards with this phrase are all over the roads in the Lone Star State. How does someone avoid messing with Texas while driving? The answer is simple and pretty straightforward: do not litter!

Littering isn’t just harmful to the environment, it’s expensive. According to statistics, approximately 3,000 tons of trash are collected from the roads and highways in each state in the U.S. yearly! Every state has their own way of handling the messy situation on the roads. Some local governments work closely with environmental organizations, some increase public awareness through the volunteer work, but the state of Texas has chosen different strategy.

The garbage problem in Texas grew out of control back in the 80’s of last century, when the state had to spend about $20 million annually to clean litter from highways. So in the year of 1985, the government started a major campaign called “Don’t Mess with Texas”. Interesting fact: The creators initially had difficulty convincing the Texas Department of Transportation to adopt the slogan, competing against options such as “Keep America Beautiful” and “Keep Texas Beautiful”. The Texas Highway Commission identified the state’s worst offenders as male drivers, ages 18-24, and decided that the best way to reach them would be to speak the same language, and with that the legend was born.

Don't Mess with Texas sign

The “Don’t Mess with Texas” campaign began with a series of bumper stickers. A year later, the slogan premiered in its first television advertisement, featuring Stevie Ray Vaughan, at the 50th Annual Cotton Bowl Classic on January 1, 1986, singing the “Eyes of Texas” with the line “Don’t Mess with Texas” added at the end of the song. Since then, numerous musicians, athletes, celebrities, and other famous Texans have appeared in “Don’t Mess with Texas” radio and television public service announcements.

Today, 27 years later, enough time to grow more than one generation, the campaign is not just still alive, it is impactful, entertaining, and needless to say very effective. The overall spirit of driving in Texas is captured by this message of not making the mess on the roads.

During its existence, the “Don’t Mess with Texas” campaign has featured a lot of notable faces and created a number of engaging and educational videos.

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