Pierce County Transit officials aren’t sure how the erroneous message got displayed on its southbound bus near Renton, but it prompted motorists to call 911 on Friday.

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Robert Rode was driving his usual route to work Friday morning on southbound Interstate 405 near Renton when he noticed something strange about a Sound Transit bus in the HOV lane. Instead of displaying a route number on the back, Rode saw a flashing message that read, “HELP! CALL 911.”

“I did a double-take,” he said, before calling police as the sign instructed (hands-free, of course).

He wasn’t the only driver to react. The emergency dispatcher told him several calls had already come in, but that Rode was able to help confirm the location of the bus that was broadcasting the alarm.

Four state troopers responded, said agency spokesman Chris Webb, but the incident won’t become fodder for a “Speed 3” movie. The surprising message turned out to be a false alarm.

Rebecca Japhet, a spokesman for Pierce County Transit, which operates some Sound Transit buses, confirmed the Route 566 coach displayed emergency language as it returned to its garage. No passengers were on board. She said the agency’s records show the message displayed was “911 CALL POLICE.”

Japhet said a bad code caused the message to appear, but the agency isn’t exactly sure what happened.

“We do not know if it was the driver entering something incorrectly or if it was a malfunction,” she said. The agency is investigating.

The emergency message was originally designed to display when drivers pressed a panic button, Japhet said. That button opens up radio communication with the transit control center. If something sounds amiss, the control center is supposed to contact law enforcement.

But because the panic button was sometimes touched accidentally or malfunctioned, the agency unlinked the emergency message.

King County Metro buses don’t outwardly display emergency alerts, said agency spokesman Jeff Switzer.

Rode figured Friday’s display was a false alarm because the bus was traveling normally, but said he “wasn’t going to be a victim of the bystander effect and not call 911.”