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How do digital signs that display death counts distract drivers?

Electronic signs flashing traffic fatality figures are meant to be shocking reminders for drivers to operate safely behind the wheel. These digital displays are part of ongoing efforts to reduce vehicle collisions through behavioral interventions.

Unfortunately, despite well-meaning intentions, a study reveals that this kind of campaign is doing more harm than good.

Shocking messaging can be distracting

Researcher Jonathan Hall and his colleagues analyzed how the Texas Department of Transportation’s fatality messages broadcasted for a week monthly can influence drivers.

They found a 4.5% increase in vehicular accidents from before and after putting up the signs. They likened the gravity of these findings to as much as a five-mile speed rise or at least a six to 14% decrease in active highway troopers. In summary, the digital fatality messages can lead to 2,600 more annual crashes around the state.

While crash circumstances highly vary, Hall and his team concluded that in-your-face traffic safety messaging is a major distraction. It takes a driver’s focus away from the task and slows down their reaction time to unexpected conditions. Thus, it becomes incredibly distracting, even fatal, under the following circumstances:

  • Bigger signs
  • Higher death rates
  • More intricately segmented roads

Drivers already feed their minds with countless traffic signs and signals as it is to stay on the good side of the law. The morbid statistics may only cause cognitive overload and disrupt the drivers’ concentration to drive safely.

Less distracting strategies may work better

Distractions on the road abound, which makes distracted driving one of the leading causes of crash deaths in the country. While policymakers mean well with the digital signs, research suggests that less distracting strategies to combat motor vehicle crashes, such as restrictions on mobile phone use or passenger count, may still be the way to avoid tragedies and legal action. When already processing a claim, victims may work with their counsel to devise strategic solutions.