Research shows that billboards displaying accident information cause more accidents

(KNSI) – A new study shows that displaying the number of road accident fatalities on electronic display boards causes more accidents.

Officials have chosen to post these messages only one week per month. Jonathan D. Hall, assistant professor at the University of Toronto, and Joshua Madsen, assistant professor at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Toronto, evaluated the effect of displaying collision fatality totals on freeway message boards.

According to a U of M research paper, researchers compared crash data from before the campaign (January 2010 – July 2012) to after it began (August 2012 – December 2017) and looked at weekly differences within each month during the campaign. They say there were more crashes in weeks with death messages than weeks without. The research focused primarily on the state of Texas, where they found death messages caused 2,600 additional crashes and 16 fatalities per year at an annual cost of $377 million.

It’s a common awareness campaign tactic, but they found that posting a death message increased the number of crashes by 4.5% on a six-mile stretch of road where the death signs were located. ‘display. The effect was worse when the screen was larger and too eye-catching, hampering drivers’ ability to react to changing road conditions. Crashes increased in areas where drivers experienced higher cognitive loads, such as heavy traffic or passing multiple message boards.

“Driving on a busy freeway and having to change lanes is more cognitively demanding than driving on a straight stretch of empty freeway,” Madsen said. “People have limited attention. When a driver’s cognitive load is already at peak, adding an attention-grabbing and sobering reminder about traffic fatalities can become a dangerous distraction. »

However, the researchers found a reduction in accidents when the number of fatalities displayed was low and when the message appeared where the highways were less complex. Madsen says that suggests that sometimes messaging wasn’t as taxing on drivers’ attention.

While the use of freeway fatality messaging varies by state, Madsen says agencies should consider other ways to raise awareness.

“Distracted driving is dangerous driving,” Madsen said. “Perhaps these campaigns can be redesigned to reach drivers in a safer way, such as when they are stopped at an intersection, so that their attention while driving remains focused on the roads.”

They also say that billboards are ineffective because people don’t react or change their behavior because of a sign.

Versions of traffic accident messages have been posted in at least 27 US states.

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