How distracting is roadside advertising?


Advertising billboards may result in changes in driver behaviour and visual attention. Research shows that drivers are slower to react, need longer braking distances and zigzag more in the presence of advertising billboards (see for example [42] [43] [44]). A majority of studies into the effects of advertising billboards on visual attention find that drivers more often take their eyes off the road in the presence of advertising billboards. This is particularly true for billboards with moving images, emotional advertisements or billboards in one’s central field of view (for an overview see [20]). The number of studies that examine the effects on crashes and crash risk is limited and the conclusions are not clear-cut. According to Vlakveld & Helman [45] only two out of five identified studies showed sufficient scientific quality; one found a crash risk increase near digital advertising billboards [46], while the other found no effect at all [47].

In addition to commercial ads, road safety is also ‘advertised’, and information about traffic flow and congestion is given. Although these information signs are meant to improve road safety, they could also distract drivers in the same way as billboards do, with a contrary and unintentional adverse effect on road safety. Research into these unintentional adverse effects has, as far as we know, never been carried out.

Most countries have guidelines for (digital) advertising billboards along the road. In the Netherlands, a CROW guideline ‘Advertisements along the roads’ recommends diminishing distraction by advertising billboards by placing them at a safe distance from the road, not to let them resemble traffic-relevant information and to avoid undesirable content (which may for example evoke strong negative emotions) [48].

Part of fact sheet

Distraction in traffic

The mobile phone is symbolic of ‘distraction in traffic’.

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