You’ve seen the billboards – the ones that catch your eye as you drive by, the moving, flashing, colorful displays created by digital billboards.
Not surprisingly, digital billboards have been shown to be more effective than their traditional, static counterparts. But what about safety? Since they are so eye-catching, do digital billboards pose a threat to drivers and passengers on U.S. highways.
The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHA) was determined to find out, so they issued a study to home in on possible safety hazards presented by digital billboards. Their results? According to the study, these potentially distracting billboards do not pose a safety risk to motorists. And, multiple traffic studies over the past couple of decades also point to the same conclusion.
What makes the FHA’s study particularly interesting is that it utilized an eye-tracking system to go straight to the source – the driver. The eye-tracker measured driver glances while driving on roads where digital billboards were present. The eye-tracking camera device was mounted inside the vehicle and tracked the driver’s eyeball movement to determine if the driver was looking ahead at the roadway or off to the side at both static and digital billboards.
Drivers in Richmond, VA and Reading, PA were studied, and the results showed that drivers did look at digital billboards a greater percentage of the time than at static billboards. However, the time spent looking off-road at the digital billboards was less than 5 percent when the signs were visible to the participants across the two experiments. In fact, long glances weren’t even relevant – glances at digital displays were rarely greater than 1 second. So, the percentage of time that drivers paid attention to the road ahead was not really affected by the presence of either static or digital billboards.
This study is significant because it shows the multitude of ways eye-tracking research is being leveraged to make our lives better. Even though the issue of digital billboard safety has been addressed many times, it is an eye-tracking study that can put the issue to rest – and help all of us feel a little bit safer on the road.