The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Are digital highway signs safe?
By SCOTT SHENK
A recent study on electronic billboards and signs brought to mind complaints from some area commuters who say the Virginia Department of Transportation’s digital signs on Interstate 95 are distracting.
They say the signs cause drivers to slow down, which leads to backups.
VDOT handles numerous digital signs along I–95, primarily using them when incidents cause lane closures. They also have signs for northbound drivers telling them how long it’ll take to get to places such as the beltway.
The study, conducted by the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute, did not come to any hard-and-fast conclusion that digital signs are a danger. But it did show that such signs have an effect on “gaze” behavior, more so than traditional signs.
In short, the study said digital signs can be distracting.
Scenic America, a nonprofit group against such things as billboards and cell towers, connected some dots to conclude that digital signs are a danger.
The group cited a 2006 Virginia Tech study finding that anything taking a driver’s eyes off the road for more than two seconds increases the risk of a crash.
“This study validates what is common sense when it comes to digital billboards,” Scenic America President Mary Tracy said in a release. “Bright, constantly-changing signs on the side of the road are meant to attract and keep the attention of drivers, and this study confirms that is exactly what they do.”
It’s debatable whether such signs (traffic signs, not digital ads) are a hazard or a benefit. Electronic traffic signs can be useful, tipping off a driver of a crash ahead, for instance.
Some complain that the signs on I–95 are worthless, but that’s a debate for another day.
There was one especially telling sign from the Swedish study, though: After it was finished, the Swedish Transportation Administration ordered the digital signs removed. Seems the consensus was that the signs created too much glare and visual clutter.