• Federal Highway Study Confirms Digital Billboard Safety

    The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration has released a landmark study declaring that digital billboards do not pose a safety risk to passing motorists. Within the sign industry, the results of this study come as no surprise. Numerous traffic studies and analyses performed in the last couple of decades have reached similar conclusions. 

    Certainly, real-world experience from around the country reveals that digital billboard displays simply do not cause accidents, to wit:

    “[In] my conversations with the deputy chief in charge of our traffic units, certainly over the last five years that we’ve done research, we have found no instances of traffic collisions being caused as a result of inattentiveness for billboards. The electronic billboards have gone up on city streets, eight of them, and since they’ve been up over the last several months, we have had no instances that they have contributed to any driver inattention that has resulted in a collision. So I don’t believe that that’s an issue.” – Richard Wiles, Chief of Police, El Paso, TX, testimony before the Texas Transportation Commission, 12/6/07.

    This new peer-reviewed FHWA study should help put to rest concerns that digital billboards, and other outdoor digital signs, pose a hazard to passing motorists. The study will also help pave the way for communities to bring this powerful outdoor advertising medium to their communities, benefiting not just local operators and advertisers but the entire local economy as well. The report, actually divided into two studies, is officially titled “Driver Visual Behavior In The Presence of Commercial Electronic Variable Message Signs.” For the purposes of the studies, the FHWA refers to digital billboards as Commercial Electronic Variable Message Signs. The studies sought to address three specific questions:

    1. Do CEVMS attract drivers’ attention away from the forward roadway and other driving-relevant stimuli?

    2. Do glances to CEVMS occur that would suggest a decrease in safety?

    3. Do drivers look at CEVMS more than at standard billboards?

    To conduct the study, the FHA tracked participant’s eye movements with an eye-tracking camera device mounted in the vehicle. This device was able to track the driver’s eyeball movement and determine if the driver was looking ahead at the roadway or off to the side of the roadway at a static billboard or CEVMS.

    Drivers in Richmond, Va., and Reading, Pa., participated in the study, and the research concluded that drivers do indeed look at digital billboards longer than they do at static billboards. Glance duration toward digital billboards averaged 0.379 seconds, while glances at static billboards were at 0.335 seconds at both test sites. Both of these measurements fall far below the two-second benchmark, which would constitute a hazard, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

    The results showed that drivers did look at CEVMS a greater percentage of time than at standard billboards; however, the time spent looking at off-premise advertising was less than 5 percent when the signs were visible to the participants across the two experiments. Long glances at off-premises advertising were not evident. The longest glance at a CEVMS was less than 1.3 seconds and glances greater than 1 second were rare events. The percentage of time that drivers dedicated to the road ahead was not significantly affected by the presence of CEVMS or standard billboards. Rather, the overall clutter and complexity of the visual scene appeared to be the principal driver of glance time away from the road ahead. This was the case regardless of the presence or absence of off-premise advertising. The results suggest that overall visual complexity of the highway environment needs to be taken into account when considering driver glance behavior.

    In conclusion, the study states, “The results did not provide evidence indicating that CEVMS, as deployed and tested in the two selected cities, were associated with unacceptably long glances away from the road. When dwell times longer than the currently accepted threshold of 2,000 ms [milliseconds] occurred, the road ahead was still in the driver’s field of view. This was the case for both CEVMS and standard billboards.”

    Photo credit: "Digital billboard" by Dwight Burdette - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Digital_billboard.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Digital_billboard.JPG




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