Designing evidence-based guidelines for the safe use of digital billboard installations: Experience and results from Australia

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Paul Roberts

While it is recognised that driver distraction is a contributor to highway crashes and that roadside advertising may contribute to this distraction, criteria for the management of roadside advertising devices varies significantly across jurisdictions within Australia and internationally. A significant emerging safety issue is the use of digital display technology for outdoor advertising signs. This technology allows the display of attention-capturing messages that may cause drivers to be even less attentive to the driving task than is the case with traditional roadside advertising. In addition, some recent digital billboards are now capable of “interacting” with drivers, by displaying personalised messages, or by encouraging drivers to call a number displayed on the billboard. The project presented was designed to facilitate the harmonization of road agency criteria for the management of roadside advertising devices and promote improved and consistent good practice by road agencies.

It was concluded that fundamental human factors considerations strongly suggest that in some driving situations it is likely that the movement or changes in luminance created by digital displays will involuntarily capture attention and that particularly salient emotional and engaging material will recruit attention to the detriment of driving performance, particularly in inexperienced drivers. It is also clear that roadside advertising is distracting and that it may lead to poorer vehicle control. While at this time studies providing direct evidence that roadside advertising plays a significant role in distraction based crashes are currently not available, nevertheless, this is a real risk that must be considered in the provision of a safe system for driving.

Guidance principles were designed. These principles were divided into both sign design recommendations and sign placement recommendations and covered factors such as; movement, dwell time, transition time, message sequencing, quantity of information, information content / meaning, luminance, longitudinal placement, lateral placement, vertical placement, orientation / viewing angle, sight distance / visibility, and speed environment.

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