OMA study finds digital billboards can improve driver awareness and safety

New research showing outdoor digital billboards can have no negative impact on driver performance and in some cases improve it has renewed industry calls for consistent regulation on signage display

Digital billboards can actually improve driver behaviour, a new Australian study conducted by the Australian Road Research Board (ARRB) on behalf of the Outdoor Media Association (OMA) claims.

The world-first study by the road safety research institute recorded vehicle movement at two complex intersections in Queensland. The locations, on the Gold Coast and in Gladstone, had been approved for digital out-of-home signage, but had not had one previously installed.

OMA's study filmed the intersections without any signage as well as in the presence of an outdoor digital billboard several times over a 24-hour period for four weeks in order to gauge the effect on safety. Billboards were active for several different dwell times, of the length of time the sign is displayed, and from eight to 30 seconds.

Researchers were looking for signs of distraction measured using several key metrics such as land drift and stopping over the line, and recorded any crashes. Intersections involve more complex mental processing than straight road driving and researchers anticipated introducing a digital sign could have reduced driver performance. Yet the opposite happened.

The research found lane drift was unaffected or results improved when signage was displayed. In addition, not stopping correctly by stopping over the line improved in all but one case. No crashes were recorded.

“This study showed it is sometimes possible for a digital sign at an intersection to operate with no negative impact on driver performance and, in some cases, to improve it,” said ARBB principal researcher, Dr Paul Roberts.

OMA CEO, Charmaine Moldrich told CMO the association expected data to be neutral, and was surprised it created some positive impact on driving. The OMA also believes digital billboards encourage drivers to look up from in-car distractions such as displays, mobile phones or eating and can therefore improve driver performance.

“Researchers have hypothesised a digital billboard brings a driver’s attention outside of the car and this brings a focus on to the road,” said Moldrich. “We replicated a study conducted by WA Main Roads that found driver behaviour improved in the presence of a digital billboard. The significance  is that the people in the research are naive to the research being conducted because it records car movements, not people.

"This is unlike other research that uses eye tracking glasses or in a lab where the driver is aware that research is being conducted and can alter behaviour."

The OMA, which represents the country’s outdoor media display companies, has highlighted the results to advocate for consistent national regulation of signage dwell time of six to eight seconds. Dwell times vary from eight to 45 seconds across different states and territories.

Moldrich explained outdoor signage required significant cost, planning and traffic analysis and a large amount of documentation for approval and that safety and certainty is paramount to the industry.

“Ideally we’d like to see harmonisation between the states on dwell time to ensure consistency and safety,” she said.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu 

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