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Digital Billboards: What we Know Now. Presented to ASHTO SCOTE Manchester, New Hampshire Jerry Wachtel, The Veridian Group, Inc. June 16, 2009. Inattention vs. Distraction. A driver may be inattentive for many reasons – daydreaming, lost in thought, drowsiness, etc.

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digital billboards what we know now

Digital Billboards:What we Know Now

Presented to ASHTO SCOTE

Manchester, New Hampshire

Jerry Wachtel, The Veridian Group, Inc.

June 16, 2009

inattention vs distraction
Inattention vs. Distraction
  • A driver may be inattentive for many reasons – daydreaming, lost in thought, drowsiness, etc.
  • Distraction - when a driver is delayed in the recognition of information needed to safely accomplish the driving task, because something within or outside the vehicle draws attention away from driving.
  • It is the presence of a “triggering event” that distinguishes distraction from inattention.

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in short
In short:
  • Inattention is passive
    • Drivers can be inattentive at any time and without reason
  • Distraction is active (although it could be unconscious)
    • Drivers engage in many distractions – most of which we cannot control
  • As an example…

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but roadside advertising as a distractor is something that we can control
But roadside advertising as a distractor is something that we can control.

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why are dbbs different
Why are DBBs Different?
  • The human eye is hard-wired to be drawn to the brightest objects in the scene and to those that display motion, or apparent motion.
    • This phenomenon is sometimes called phototaxis or phototropism.
    • Recent research (e.g. Theeuwes) shows that this response is both is automatic and unavoidable.
  • DBBs use both brightness and movement to capture attention.

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how else do dbbs differ from conventional billboards
How Else do DBBs Differ from Conventional Billboards?
  • Size potential – one sign is 90 x 65 ft; 165 ft high
  • Compelling photo-realistic/broadcast imagery
  • Intermittency and image change at will
  • Potential for message sequencing
  • Potential for interactivity with driver

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my biases
My Biases:
  • I have worked for the industry, including OAAA, NESA, and large outdoor advertising firms such as Lamar and Infinity.
  • I have worked for local governments in developing and defending sign ordinances.
  • I have performed research for Government and industry alike.

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my work leads to these conclusions
My Work Leads to These Conclusions:
  • Billboards have gone from paintings on barns, to print on poster paper, to vinyl sheets, and now to digital displays.
  • It’s not the technology of the display that should concern us, but the manner in which that display is used
  • We’re not concerned because they are digital, but because of their operational characteristics coupled with their location.

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in other words
In Other Words:
  • IF a DBB was set to a luminance level appropriate to the ambient environment in which it is viewed, and
  • IF the DBB message change interval was such that no driver saw more than one such change, and
  • IF we ensured that location restrictions (e.g. interchange areas, horizontal curves, merges, lane drops, etc.) were truly enforced,
  • THEN we should not be particularly concerned about safety impacts due to distraction.

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recent research
In recent years, independent research studies have been conducted in several countries:





South Africa




Studies have included:




Interviews and focus groups

Post-hoc crash analyses

Recent Research

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the research is quite clear
The Research is Quite Clear
  • The more recent the research, the stronger the findings, and
  • The stronger the theoretical basis for understanding the nature of the problem
    • Drivers’ eyes off the road for 1.6 seconds or longer leads to a substantially higher crash rate
    • DBBs can attract drivers’ eyes for longer than 1.6 seconds, and dramatically longer than for conventional billboards.

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only two recent studies show no adverse safety impact
Only Two Recent Studies Show No Adverse Safety Impact
  • Tantala and Tantala
  • Virginia Tech
    • Both sponsored by the outdoor advertising industry
    • Both severely criticized in peer review
    • Both rejected for presentation or publication by TRB
  • Ironically, the Virginia Tech human factors study found substantial degradation in eye glance behavior and did not report it.

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Glances longer than 1.6 sec = 6% of all glances

Glances longer than 2.0 sec = 2% of all glances

Glances longer than 3.0 sec = 0% of all glances

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Glances longer than 1.6 sec. = 9% of all glances

Glances longer than 2.0 sec = 5% of all glances

Glances longer than 3.0 sec = 0% of all glances

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Glances of 1.6 sec or longer = 21% of all glances

Glances of 2.0 sec or longer = 10% of all glances

Glances of 3.0 sec or longer = 2% of all glances

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Glances of 1.6 sec or longer = 13% of all glances

Glances of 2.0 sec or longer = 7% of all glances

Glances of 3.0 sec or longer = 3% of all glances

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summary of unanalyzed va tech data
Summary of Unanalyzed VA-Tech Data

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conclusions unreported
Conclusions – Unreported
  • DBBs and comparison sites (mostly on-premise DBBs) together produced:
    • 2X as many glances > 1.6 seconds as baseline sites and conventional billboards (34% - 15%)
    • 2.5X as many glances > 2.0 seconds as baseline and conventional sites (17% - 7%)
    • 5% of glances > 3.0 seconds – no such glances were made to baseline or conventional sites.
  • From a pilot study, the authors predicted significantly worse DBB performance at night.

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on premise signs what s wrong with this picture
On-Premise Signs: What’s Wrong with This Picture?
  • The Virginia Tech study found, as expected, that on-premise digital signs were as bad as, if not worse than, DBBs
  • HBA regulates billboards, not on-premise signs
  • These are left to local governments, typically through zoning and land use
  • But, on premise signs may be:
    • Bigger
    • Brighter
    • Closer to the ROW
    • Contain full motion video
    • At or near interchanges, curves, etc.
  • If our concern is driver distraction, isn’t the potential just as high, or higher, for on-premise signs?

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The World’s Largest Digital Billboard: 90’ x 65’ atop a 165’ Post – Visible for more than 2 Miles Along I-495 in NYC

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advertising signs on the row what does the mutcd say
Advertising Signs on the ROW: What Does the MUTCD Say?
  • Section 1A.01: “Traffic control devices or their supports shall not bear any advertising messages or any other message that is not related to traffic control.”
  • Section 1A.02, requires that TCDs: “fulfill a need,” “convey a clear, simple meaning,” and “command respect from road users.”
  • Section 2E.21: “Changeable message signs shall display pertinent traffic operational and guidance information only, not advertising.”

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what did dudek find
What did Dudek Find?
  • Recent NCHRP study on the use of CMS during non-incident, non-roadwork periods.
  • States and toll authorities reported pressure to display public service messages, safety campaigns, and advertisements, often against the wishes of safety personnel
  • There are excellent guidelines available for design and operation of CMSs – not always followed.

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other lessons from dudek
Other Lessons from Dudek
  • Long messages (e.g. telephone numbers, websites, license plate numbers) take too long to read and may cause drivers to slow
  • Messages “irrelevant” to traffic safety/flow are strongly opposed by motorists
  • Change blindness can occur if a message has changed from irrelevant to relevant
  • Loss of credibility when CMSs display untimely or irrelevant messages
  • These are the very characteristics of advertising signs.

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the next challenge dbbs on vehicles moving in traffic
The Next Challenge:DBBs on Vehicles Moving in Traffic
  • New companies offer DBBs to be displayed on trucks in the traffic stream.
  • Some use 40’ trailers with huge LED screens displaying full motion video.
  • Some governmental agencies are using this technology on public buses and trolleys.
  • Some jurisdictions have amended their sign codes to prohibit such commercial displays.

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An Interactive Billboard in Belgium

1. The driver sends an SMS using a code from the sign

2. The billboard sends a return message with a question

3. The driver messages a response to the question

4. A correct answer causes the billboard to act like a pinball machine – the driver is entered into a drawing; a wrong answer causes the billboard to “tilt.”

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new research and regulatory activity
New Research and Regulatory Activity
  • FHWA has begun its on-road research study.
    • It will use an instrumented vehicle and highly sophisticated eye movement recording system
    • Research will be done in two different cities
    • Data collection should start this fall
  • FHWA has begun an “International Scan” to learn about activities in other countries
  • TRB Digital Signage subcommittee will develop research needs statements for on-premise and on-road DBBs – we hope for AASHTO support
  • But there is no concerted effort to address interactive DBBs or DBBs on moving vehicles.

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Driver distraction is an increasing concern – we can’t control all of it…

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thanks very much for your attention
Thanks very much for your attention.

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