A review of recent research on driver distraction near digital billboards finds increased evidence the bright, constantly changing digital billboards negatively impact traffic safety. The compendium highlights new studies proving digital billboards are attracting longer and more frequent glances from drivers than do static signs.
The compendium’s author, engineering psychologist Jerry Wachtel of the Veridian Group, said that while digital billboards may be succeeding in capturing driver attention and for that reason “they represent a growing threat to traffic safety, particularly along our busiest streets and highways.”
A 2015 study of eight digital billboard locations on highways in Florida and Alabama showed significantly higher crash rates, 25% in Florida and 29% in Alabama, at sites near the digital billboards than those further away. A disproportionate number were rear-end and sideswipe collisions, both typical of crashes caused by driver distraction.
“These studies are especially alarming given the rate at which digital billboards are going up around the country,” said Mary Tracy, president of Scenic America. “It is particularly concerning that our federal government became complicit in these growing threats to public health when they allowed these signs to start going up without first requiring a study to prove they do not endanger driver safety.”
In 2007 the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) reversed a long-held position by giving the green light to digital billboards utilizing “flashing, blinking or intermittent lighting” along federal highways. With no safety analysis, FHWA declared that billboards changing as frequently as 20,000 times a day were not changing “intermittently” as long as they were static for 4 seconds.
This June, Texas Congressman Ted Poe, along with three other Members of Congress, urged USDOT/FHWA in a congressional letter to reconsider the decision to authorize digital billboards to operate along the federal highway system. The request was accompanied by the compendium of safety studies reported by the Veridian Group.