Driving Performance and Digital Billboards: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY OF FINAL REPORT

Foundation for Outdoor Advertising Research and Education, Center for Automotive Safety Research, Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, March 22, 2007

Suzanne E. Lee
Melinda J. McElheny
Ronald Gibbons

The motivation for the current study was to examine driver performance in the presence of digital billboards, as compared to other driving locations without them. There is a long history of studying billboards in the context of traffic safety but, although the research record covers many years (1951 until the present), it is lacking in volume and is primarily focused on conventional billboards. There were a few epidemiological studies performed in the early 1950’s examining traffic accidents in the presence and absence of billboards; however, much of this early work was methodologically flawed. After a long gap in research, there were a few additional studies in the 1960’s through the 1980’s, none of which demonstrated that billboards are unsafe. More recent studies conducted in Canada have shown that there may be changes in driver behavior associated with video billboards (those with full motion), but those studies do not address the digital billboards of interest in the current study (with a static message that changes instantaneously without special effects). 
Traffic accident analysis techniques have improved in recent years with the creation and maintenance of national crash databases. A careful examination of these databases shows that distraction caused by billboards fails to show up in any of the accident databases as an accident cause. Likewise, an examination of numerous driver distraction studies demonstrates that billboards fail to show up as a cause of driver distraction. The overall conclusion from all past research is that conventional billboards in general have not been shown to cause traffic accidents or change driver behavior. However, the question of whether digital billboards change driver behavior in some way cannot be answered by these previous studies; this is the motivation for the current study.



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