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. For those within the industry, the results of this study come as no surprise. Numerous traffic studies and analyses performed in the last couple of decades have come to a similar conclusion.
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 FHA 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.
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.”
This peer-reviewed 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.
/ Darrin Friskney is director of Danville, Illinois-based Watchfire Signs, which has been manufacturing outdoor electric signs since 1932. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.