One of the most common reasons of distracted driving is using a cell phone even hands-free. However, we are going to open another aspect of this problem.
New York’s Time Square was traditionally a location of intense billboard advertising. As part of a “revitalization program”, New York has announced the end of bill board advertising at this famous location. Besides, the location is now subjected to “jumbotron video” – apparently now a more pleasant marketing technique.
However, Vancouver and other lower mainland communities appear to be on the verge of acquiring more of the old fashioned billboard advertising at prominent locations. For instance, on Squamish Nation lands. One reported plan is to erect “super boards” and smaller boards on Squamish Nation properties at the north end of the Lions Gate Bridge; the north end of the Second Narrows Crossing; the south end of the Burrard Street Bridge in Vancouver.
Quite apart from the aesthetic and communications issues, such a development prompts a look at the question of whether or not billboards cause distracted driving.
Driving Conditions in Lower Mainland
Lower Mainland drivers are dealing with an increasingly complex driving environment. More traffic. More variety of vehicles sharing the roads in separately designated lanes. In addition to that more complex road and highway systems. The level of focus required is greater than ever and yet, so too, are the internal and external distractions. Inside vehicles the electronic devices just keep on coming. For example, phones, CD and DVD players, GPS systems, and even TV (in the back seats of Vans, for the kids).
Outside distractions include: objects; people; events such as roadside emergencies. And what has been referred to as “the amazing and always growing palette of outdoor advertising media”. For example, twenty-four styles of billboard presentation are in the list on the website of one of the top outdoor media advertising agencies.
Recently in the UK, there was a government commissioned study to “explore in more depth whether external driver distraction [from billboards and signs] is a significant factor in road accidents.” The main findings were that external-to-vehicle driver distraction is a significant contributory factor to road accidents and that these incidents are under-reported.
The UK study also suggested that billboards and signs pose the greatest risk in two specific situations. They are intersections and on long monotonous stretches of highway. Advertisements and signs placed near intersections reportedly create a major threat to road safety. They certainly create visual ‘clutter’ that makes it harder for drivers to perceive traffic lights and other safety signs/devices. On long ‘boring’ stretches of highway, the sudden appearance of billboards distracts drivers who fail to concentrate on their driving.
A US study on the effect of talking on a hands free cell phone while driving had some findings. Immediately after taking simulated drives past a series of billboards, volunteers could recall fewer of the signs if they were talking on a hands-free cell phone. But, eye-tracking tests showed that drivers looked directly at two-thirds of the billboards, whether or not they used a cell phone.