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Can Billboards Improve Your Driving Skills?

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Photo: Pxhere

With their flashy graphics and attention-grabbing text, you might think that billboards distract drivers. However, a new Australian study found that motorists behave better at intersections with roadside advertisements. Here’s a look at how they made this discovery — and why some experts disagree with the findings.

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Research and results

For four weeks, researchers monitored two billboard-free, complex intersections for two key indicators of distracted driving: lane drifting and stopping over the line. Then, they installed a digital billboard at each intersection and monitored it for the same amount of time.

Once the billboards were installed, stopping over the line significantly improved. Lane drifting improved in some cases, but stayed the same in others. Best of all, while the billboards were up, there were no crashes or red light runners.

Even the researchers were surprised by these results. Dr. Paul Roberts, the principal researcher for the Australian Road Research Board, expected for the billboards to have a negative impact on driver performance.

So why aren’t billboards causing chaos? The researchers theorize that billboards can help keep distractions at bay by encouraging drivers to look up and stay alert. After all, 88 percent of driver distractions come from inside the car — like checking your phone, eating a meal, or tending to a pet.

Conflicting opinions

Other sources aren’t sold on the relationship between billboards and road safety. For instance, the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute found that digital billboards are among the most distracting things on the road since drivers tend to fixate on them. Consequently, Sweden banned digital roadside advertising.

Similarly, a study by the University of Alberta, positive billboard messages can cause drivers to speed up, while negative statements make drivers slow down and veer off course more frequently.

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So, will more roadside advertisements save lives? The jury is still out. Just keep in mind that the Australian study was commissioned by the Outdoor Media Association.