A compilation of studies show digital billboards along roadways constitute a distraction that increase the risk of traffic accidents
As billboards are getting more and more sophisticated, the risk of car accidents caused by drivers distracted by these billboards is increasing. Jerry Wachtel, a traffic safety consultant just released a compendium of 22 recent studies related to potential consequences for driver distraction from Commercial Electronic Variable Message Signs (CEVMS) along the roadside. The author released a previous study in 2009 warning about the dangers of such billboards. More recent studies are showing that as billboard became more sophisticated, drivers also became more distracted increasing the risk of accidents. Below is a summary of the most relevant findings:
- While experienced drivers are more cautious than young drivers in keeping their eyes away from distractions that are inside the car (i.e. phone dialing or map searching) they are not as cautious when it comes to external distractions such as electronic billboards. Both younger and older drivers have a tendency to often glance for more than 2 seconds at external distractions such as electronic billboards instead of focusing on the road in front of them. When a driver takes his or her eyes off the road for two seconds or more the risk of an accident is high.
- Drivers pay less attention to relevant road signs but focus more on electronic billboards when both types of signs are on the same road
- Among common activities that distract a driver, conversation with passengers and attending to kids are the activities that lead most frequently to an accident. Looking at billboards outside the vehicle and looking for an address are the activities that have the highest risk of leading to an accident.
- Billboards that include digital videos are more dangerous than traditional billboards with a static image
- Billboards shouldn’t be installed in locations with a high risk of accidents where drivers are required to pay extra attention
- A study comparing the same road with and without advertising billboards shows that when billboards were removed the total number of accidents decreased by 60%, the number of crashes with injuries or deaths declined by 39% and the number of collisions with damage to property were down 72%
- In the presence of billboards drivers have a tendency to swing and drift from their lane especially when driving at high speeds and when signs contains a lot of information to process such as videos or many words. Interestingly a study shows that the drift in line usually happens after the driver reads the billboard. Drivers also tend to recklessly cross dangerous intersections when electronic billboards are installed nearby.
- Drivers tend to glance more at the time of the switch to new advertising
- Drivers are taking more time to detect changes and dangers on the road when billboards are present, especially in busy commercial and high traffic environments
- The more the traffic is congested the more digital billboard impacts safety on the road. Accidents such as sideswipes and rear-end collisions are more frequent in the vicinity of electronic billboards.