Digital Billboards Ruled Safe, But Controversy Continues

by , Jan 27, 2014, 5:05 PM
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While digital billboards are popular with advertisers and outdoor ad companies, they’ve also attracted criticism for a range of reasons, including aesthetics and safety concerns, especially the threat of distracted driving.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highways Agency recently weighed in with a study suggesting that digital billboards result in minimal distraction and are therefore basically safe -- but it’s unlikely the report will settle this contentious issue.
 
The FHWA study, titled “Driver Visual Behavior In The Presence Of Commercial Electronic Variable Message Signs” and performed for the feds by Science Applications International Corporation, used eye-tracking technology to compare driver attention in the presence of digital billboards compared to standard billboards.

According to SAIC, drivers were slightly more likely to look at digital billboards than standard billboards, but for the most part didn’t look at either type of billboard for more than two seconds -- the minimum threshold for distracted driving.
 
The average dwell time for digital billboards observed in two study areas (Richmond, VA, and Reading, PA) was about the same, at approximately one second, and there was only one instance of a dwell time exceeding two seconds (2.27 seconds). Thus “the results did not provide evidence indicating that CEVMS were associated with long glances away from the road that may reflect an increase in risk.”
 
While the peer-reviewed study is encouraging for digital billboard supporters, the controversy will almost certainly continue. This is just the latest in a series of studies on the subject, dating back to 2007. Some have been attacked for questionable conclusions. Indeed, expert reviewers told the FHWA that the results of an earlier study -- which seemed to find average dwell time of less a tenth of a second -- were basically impossible, prompting the agency to withdraw the study for internal review.

1 comment on "Digital Billboards Ruled Safe, But Controversy Continues".

  1. Tom Francoeur from Communispace
    commented on: January 28, 2014 at 4:51 p.m.
    I like digital billboards as an ad format. Much more captivating than static billboards. But I definitely find them distracting when driving. But that could be due to being an ad junky.

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