Thursday, July 12, 2007

New research suggests outdoor electronic billboards are safe

There's been an ongoing debate over the safety of electronic billboards, and the latest research from the Foundation for Outdoor Advertising Research and Education (as reported in this article at Media Buyer Planner) suggest that digital billboards are no less safe than their traditional counterparts:

Tantala Associates, a consulting engineering firm, found no statistical relationship between digital boards and traffic accidents after examining traffic and accident data near all seven existing digital billboards in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, over a period of 18 months before and after the billboards were converted to digital.

A second study conducted by the Center for Automotive Safety Research at Virginia Tech's Transportation Institute concluded that digital boards were "safety neutral," based on a study of eye glance movements of 36 drivers in specially-equipped cars in Cleveland.

Results showed no differences in the overall glance patterns or frequency of glances between digital and traditional boards. Although drivers took longer glances in the direction of digital billboards, the mean glance length time was less than one second, generally considered to be an acceptable amount of time for a glance away from the forward roadway.
My biggest complaint with the study is that it doesn't seem like 36 drivers is a big enough sample to draw broad-sweeping conclusions from. I'd want to see a few hundred across a wider range of driving conditions, since traditional billboards are everywhere, whereas electronic billboards are clustered in only high traffic, high ambient-light, urban areas right now.

Also, while the OAAA (FOARE's parent organization) is a not-for-profit industry group, it's certainly possible that their desire to have positive results influenced the outcome of the study. I'd like to see a driver or public safety advocacy group run the same study and see if they yield the same result.

My gut feeling is that while electronic billboards are a lot more eye catching than their static counterparts, that doesn't necessarily mean that they're less safe. I can see the argument there, though, and I'll wager that placement, brightness levels and the content on the screens will have a much larger impact on driver safety than the mere difference between electronic and traditional billboards alone.

Tags: electronic billboards, digital signage, out-of-home advertising

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