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Research shows digital billboards to be dangerous

A new study conducted by researchers at the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute (VTI) shows that digital billboards attract and hold the attention of drivers for far longer periods than a threshold that previous studies have shown to be dangerous. The research, which was funded by the Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket), found that drivers looked at digital billboards significantly longer than they did at other signs on the same stretch of road, with the digital signs often taking a driver’s eyes off the road for more than two seconds. A 2006 study by Virginia Tech for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that anything that takes a driver’s eyes off the road for more than two seconds greatly increases the risk of a crash. The study also found that nearly 80% of all crashes involved driver inattention during the three seconds immediately before the accident.

The Swedish research team suggests that digital billboards attract greater attention from drivers due to their: brightness; visibility from greater distances; and display of a constantly-changing series of advertisements. The team concluded that digital billboards “have the potential ability to keep up the driver’s curiosity over an extended period of time.” Previous human behavioral studies have shown that drivers are naturally inclined to notice bright, changing lights in their peripheral vision and to anticipate additional motion. The Swedish government had previously given temporary authorization to erect digital billboards in 2009, but as a result of this and related studies; the government has now ordered the removal of all digital billboards. In the USA the deployment of digital billboards is on the increase, despite a growing body of evidence suggesting that they pose a threat to traffic safety.

January 10, 2013

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