Digital billboards ‘Down Under’. Are they distracting to drivers and can industry and regulators work together for a safe outcome?
In Australia, digital billboards are beginning to be permitted at the roadside. There are concerns from a road safety perspective that these signs may have more potential to distract drivers than static billboards. Since the existing international research on digital billboards and driver distraction is inconclusive, an on-road study was conducted to compare drivers’ eye fixations and driving performance when advertising signs (static billboards, digital billboards and on-premise signs) were present. A total of 29 participants aged 25-54 years were fitted with eye tracking glasses and drove an instrumented vehicle along a 14.6 km route in Brisbane, Queensland passing a number of advertising signs, including digital and static billboards and on-premise signage. Number of fixations and dwell times towards advertising signs were measured, along with lateral deviation and vehicle headway. The study found the average fixation durations for all signage types were well below 0.75 s, considered to be the minimum perception-reaction time to an unexpected event. There were no significant differences in average vehicle headway between the three signage types. There was a statistically significant difference in lateral deviation when billboards were present. Joint research between regulators and industry is warranted to further explore the significance of these findings.