Digital Traffic Safety
Research shows that billboards — even the most attention-getting billboards — are not related to accidents. The presence of billboards does not affect motorists’ behavior, such as changing lanes or change speed.
New technology enables billboard copy to change electronically. Known as digital billboards, these signs display static messages, typically for six or eight seconds. State and local governments have reviewed accident records for roadways near digital billboards; they do not cite traffic safety problems associated with digital billboards. Likewise, an engineering analysis of three years of accident data in the Cleveland, OH, area showed no statistical relationship between digital billboards and accidents. A separate study of drivers in the same area said digital billboards are safety neutral.
Traffic Safety Infographics
- What does the Traffic Accident Data Say?
- Industry’s Traffic Safety Research
- FHWA Final CEVMS Report Summary
- Albuquerque, NM 2010
- Cleveland, OH 2009
- Cleveland, OH 2007
- Reading, PA 2010
- Richmond, VA 2010
- Rochester, MN 2009
- Summary of Accident Research
- Jerry Wachtel’s Review of Cleveland 2007
State and local jurisdictions have reviewed accident data to determine if the rate of accidents increased in proximity to digital billboards; these officials answered that question in the negative.
South Carolina Memorandum
“Our study has turned up no accidents reported to local police in the vicinity of the digital signs we’ve been monitoring.”
James R. Barrett, C.P.E.S.C.
Regulatory and Compliance Manager
Asset Management Division
Virginia Department of Transportation
September 24, 2007
El Paso Memorandum
New York Department of Transportation
“There is no empirical evidence at this time to indicate a CEVMS message changing every six seconds results in an increased risk of accidents.”
From the NY DOT guidelines (October 28, 2008)
Rochester, MN Letters
City of Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce Letter
Driver Behavior Research
Typical eye glances in the direction of digital billboards are less than one second, which is well under the risk threshold identified in a major federal study (The NHTSA 100-car study performed by VTTI).
In 2007, the outdoor advertising industry’s foundation (FOARE), commissioned Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) to study driver behavior in relation to digital billboards in Cleveland, OH. The study found:
- Drivers did not glance more frequently in the direction of digital billboards than in the direction of other event types
- Drivers did take longer glances in the direction of digital billboards and comparison sites than in the direction of static billboards and baseline sites
- The mean glance at the digital billboards lasted less than 1.6 seconds
FHWA Traffic Safety Research Documents
In early 2008, FHWA initiated driver behavior research similar to the industry’s VTTI research to determine whether or not digital billboards (“Commercial Electronic Variable Message Signs”) are a potential driving hazard. In-car driving tests were conducted in Reading, PA, and Richmond, VA. On December 30, 2013, FHWA released the final report. The results from the FHWA study indicate the following:
- The presence of digital billboards does not appear to be related to a decrease in looking toward the road ahead, which is consistent with earlier industry sponsored field research studies (VTTI).
- The longest fixation to a digital billboard was 1.34 seconds, and to a standard billboard it was 1.28 seconds, both of which are well below the accepted standard.
- When comparing the gaze at a CEVMS versus a standard billboard, the drivers in this study were more likely to gaze at CEVMS than at standard billboards.
- The researchers were careful to note the FHWA study adds to the knowledge base of digital billboard safety, but does not “present definitive answers” to the questions investigated. In short, the FHWA study determined that digital billboard glances are well within federal safety standards concerning driver distraction.