A Shiny New Distraction Could Endanger Drivers

Anyone who has driven on a highway in the United States recently has likely seen the new style of billboards that is replacing the old stand-by. Digital billboards allow for multiple advertisements on the same space and can be easily swapped for new messages without the need for a work crew to climb up and paste on the new material. Unfortunately, the new billboards may also be the cause of car accidents. A Swedish study has shown that the new digital billboards attract and hold a driver’s attention longer than older billboards, and longer than is safe.

A 2006 Virginia Tech study demonstrated that nearly 80 percent of car crashes include driver inattention within three seconds of the incident. That means that the odds of getting into an accident rise dramatically if a driver takes his or her eyes off the road for more than two seconds. The Swedish study found that digital billboards draw the eyes of drivers far longer than other signs and cause many drivers to go past the threat level of driver inattention.

It could be argued that the new billboards are too effective. They are bright, and are visible from greater distances than traditional billboards. This causes drivers to look at them sooner than they would an old billboard. They have constantly changing messages, giving drivers a reason to continue looking long after they have processed the information on the screen. The new technology may simply be incompatible with transportation safety.

Source: Occupational Health & Safety, “Study Finds Digital Billboards Distract Drivers,” 7 January 2013