Are billboards driving us to distraction?

by Jamie Hanlon

It's now unlawful to shave or use a mobile phone while driving, but reading billboards is still OK. Or is it?

In a recent article published in , University of Alberta researcher Michelle Chan makes a case for regulating emotional while driving.

Chan and U of A co-author Anthony Singhal devised an experiment using a driving simulator, in which participants drove past 20 in one of three scenarios. The billboards in each scenario contained different types of words:

  • Positive words (such as beach, love, cheer or win)
  • Negative words (such as cancer, stress, ulcer or killer)
  • Neutral words (such as engine, statue, lawn or pencil)

Chan hypothesized that drivers would react to the emotionally charged words. The results showed that all three groups showed some , but the highest levels—and those indicating greater driver risk—occurred with the emotionally charged words.

  • For both positive and negative words, participants slowed down when passing the billboards, showing that processing of the emotional words was taking place.
  • Participants viewing the negative words not only decreased speed when passing the signs, but also tended to drift and veer from their lane.
  • Drivers viewing the positive words sped up after passing the signs.
  • Participants increased speed when passing billboards with a target-sign word (one that tested drivers' response time by having them push a button on the when they saw it).

The results showed that drivers' attention can be compromised from viewing billboards, a finding that could be used to make changes to driver training programs, legislation or road design.

Chan says that encouraging marketers to self-regulate billboard language content may be a better first step than to regulate billboards into distracted-. She points to Australia as an example of a country with developed billboard content laws, but says ultimately the responsibility for safe driving rests with the driver.

For now, she says, it may just be safer to keep eyes forward when passing billboards, regardless of what's on them.

"Any kind of distraction is risky when you're driving. But there would appear to be a larger risk when it comes to emotional stimuli."

Related Stories

Anxiety is a killer distraction on our roads

date Jun 01, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Driving while stressed can be as distracting and dangerous as talking on your mobile phone, according to a study by Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

Positive words: the glue to social interaction

date May 24, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Scientists at ETH Zurich have studied the use of language, finding that words with a positive emotional content are more frequently used in written communication. This result supports the theory that social ...

Recommended for you

Online illusion: Unplugged, we really aren't that smart

date 29 minutes ago

The Internet brings the world to our fingertips, but it turns out that getting information online also has a startling effect on our brains: We feel a lot smarter than we really are, according to a Yale-led study published ...

People in MTV docusoaps are more ideal than real

date 30 minutes ago

More midriff, cleavage and muscle is seen in MTV's popular television docusoaps such as The Real World, Jersey Shore or Laguna Beach than in the average American household. Semi-naked brawny Adonises and even more scantily ...

Score! Video gamers may learn visual tasks more quickly

date 38 minutes ago

Many studies show that video gamers perform better than non-gamers on certain visual tasks, like managing distractors and identifying targets, but a small new Brown University study provides gamers with some ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.