Digital Billboards Hold Driver's Attention

According to a study by the Center for Crash Causation and Human Factors at Virginia Tech's Transportation Institute, a leading research institute on transportation and driving performance, a driver's performance, speed maintenance, and lane keeping were not measurably impaired in any way along highways and other roads with billboards.

In addition, eyeglance results showed that there were no differences in the overall glance patterns between digital billboards, conventional billboards, comparison events, and baseline events during the daytime. And the nighttime results indicate that digital billboards and comparison events may be associated with more active glance patterns, as well as with more frequent and longer glances towards the digital billboards and comparison events.

Some aspect of the digital billboards and comparison events, however, holds the driver's attention, once the driver has glanced that way. This is most likely, says the report, the result of the intrinsic lighting of these signs, which is noticeable even during the daytime. Drivers may also have maintained longer glances towards the digital billboards in the hopes of catching the next message (knowing that the message changes periodically).

The overall conclusion, supported by both the eyeglance results and subsequent questionnaire results, is that the digital billboards seem to attract more attention than the conventional billboards and baseline sites (as shown by a greater number of spontaneous comments regarding the digital billboards and by longer glances in the direction of the billboards).

Other notable findings from this study are as follows: 

  • Drivers did not glance more frequently in the direction of digital billboards than in the direction of other event types during the daytime
  • Drivers took longer glances in the direction of digital billboards and comparison sites than in the direction of conventional billboards and baseline sites during the daytime
  • An analysis of glances lasting longer than 1.6 seconds indicated that these longer glances were distributed evenly across the digital billboards, conventional billboards, comparison events, and baseline events during the daytime
  • The nighttime results indicate that digital billboards and comparison events may be associated with more active glance patterns, as well as with more frequent and longer glances towards the digital billboards and comparison events
  • For the post-drive questionnaire, 42% of drivers mentioned billboards as one of the top five items that caught their attention (note that drivers did not know this was billboard study)
  • In an open-ended question, 10% of the drivers mentioned billboards as the single most memorable item on the trip, and two referred specifically to the digital billboards as being memorable

The results of the drivers' visual performance indicate no measurable distinction between billboard sites and comparison sites such as logo boards, on-premise signs and other roadside objects. In addition, there was no difference in visual behavior in terms of the age of the driver, their familiarity with the road or what side of the road they were on.

Dr. Suzanne Lee of VTTI, the project's Principal Investigator, observed that "... a more rigorous examination of individual billboards that could be considered to be the most visually attention-getting showed no relationship between glance location and billboard location."

The study included thirty-six drivers with males and females equally represented, and equally divided by age (older: 50-75, younger: 18-35). Participants drove an instrumented vehicle on their own on a 50-mile loop along interstates and surface streets. Participants were told that the study was to help understand the way people drive in a natural environment. Along the route, participants encountered:

  • 5 digital billboards that were the standard bulletin size (14 ft x 48 ft) and the copy changed instantaneously every eight seconds
  • 15 conventional billboards
  • 12 comparison sites, including on-premises signs (some with digital elements), logo placards, landmark buildings, and murals
  • 12 baseline sites (with no signs)

Please visit here for the complete PDF report.

2 comments about "Digital Billboards Hold Driver's Attention".
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  1. Lindy Sieker from Empower MediaMarketing, April 21, 2009 at 4:44 p.m.

    I agree with Susan. Also, the other distracting/frustrating thing is that it changes so quickly to the next ad that you find yourself looking the in rear-view mirror to see if you can find that ad again for a phone number, etc., which is even less time spent with the real task -- driving.

  2. John Mccafferty from McCafferty and Company Advertising, April 21, 2009 at 8:44 p.m.

    The fact that we are in the advertising profession makes us pay greater attention to the medium than Joe Q. Public. And that's not just outdoor. I often find myself paying more attention to TV commercials than the shows. Of the 5000+ messages the consumer is bombarded with every day, very few are memorable (or distracting).

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