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Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

Research Review Of Potential Safety Effects Of Electronic Billboards On Driver Attention And Distraction


Executive Summary

1 Introduction
1.1 Background and Objectives
1.2 Structure of the Report

2 Literature Review
2.1 Types of Electronic Billboards
2.2 State Regulations and Policies on Electronic Billboards
2.2.1 Introduction
2.2.2 Sources of Information
2.2.3 State Regulations and Practices
2.2.4 National Alliance of Highway Beautification Agencies
2.2.5 State Outdoor Advertising Regulations
2.2.6 Concerns about Electronic Billboards
2.3 Reports on Billboards and Safety
2.3.1 The Wachtel and Netherton Report
2.3.2 Wisconsin DOT Report
2.3.3 The Curriden Article
2.4 Potential Safety Factors
2.4.1 Distraction
2.4.2 Conspicuity of Displays
2.4.3 Legibility
2.5 The Driver
2.5.1 Driver Age
2.5.2 Driver Familiarity with Route
2.6 Measures of Effectiveness
2.6.1 Surrogates
2.6.2 Current Measurement of Distraction

3 Synthesis

4 Research Needs
4.1 Roadway Characteristics
4.2 EBB and Tri-vision Sign Characteristics
4.3 Research Findings in Legibility
4.4 Driver Characteristics
4.5 Other Potential Driver Distractions
4.6 Future Research
4.7 Research Methods

5 Annotated Bibliography

Appendix A: Examples ofelectronic billboards

Appendix B: Outdoor Advertising: Standard Definition

Appendix C: Results of State Statutory Review



Table 1. Timing Boundaries of Several Tri-Vision Billboard Policies
Table 2. Recommended Minimum Luminance Values (cd/m2) for CMS Visibility


This document is disseminated under the sponsorship of the Department of Transportation in the interest of information exchange. The United States Government assumes no liability for its contents or use thereof. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation. The United States Government does not endorse products or manufacturers. Trade and manufacturers' names appear in this report only because they are considered essential to the object of the document.

Executive Summary

Advances in display technology and decreases in cost have created interest to expand the deployment of high resolution and dynamic imaging. The introduction of such technology to billboards, where static displays of advertising have been the standard, raises questions on the effects that electronic billboards (EBBs) may have on drivers' attention.

The Office of Real Estate Services and the Safety Core Business Unit in the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) requested the FHWA Office of Safety, Research and Development to review literature related to the safety implications of EBBs, present findings, and recommend a research plan to address knowledge gaps. This project follows earlier work sponsored by the FHWA in 1980 and compliments driver distraction studies relative to in-vehicle displays currently underway.

Based on conversations with government staff and examination of state regulations, the literature review summarized state billboard regulations and policies relevant to EBBs and tri-vision signs. The review then encompassed billboard-related crash analyses and potential safety factors such as distraction, conspicuity, and legibility. Due to the limited amount of research regarding external distraction in drivers, internal distractions, such as in-vehicle information systems and cellular telephones, were used as surrogates when investigating how potential distractions affect the driver.

As the literature review identified and summarized potential safety effects of EBBs and tri-vision signs, many questions became evident. The synthesis section organized these questions into knowledge gaps. The identified knowledge gaps have been categorized into the areas of roadway geometry characteristics, EBB and tri-vision sign characteristics, and driver characteristics.

Since this effort was purely a review of existing literature, no formal research was completed; the purpose of the remainder of the research review was to build upon the identified knowledge gaps. Each of the gaps was analyzed and preliminary research plans were proposed. Included in each plan are associated goals and proposed research questions. When possible, relevant research findings in which the research questions were based upon were identified.

Roadway characteristics that were recognized for future research in the knowledge gap section include horizontal and vertical curves, intersections, work zones, and EBB billboard spacing. EBBs and tri-vision sign characteristics and their proposed research questions are related to an EBB's message content and comprehensibility, exposure time, motion, and sign maintenance. Finally, research questions related to driver characteristics are directed to age and route familiarity.

Updated: 9/5/2014
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