When people hear about “distracted driving,” they typically think of reading text messages or, more recently, digital billboards that change their message every 10 seconds. It seems to be logical that a bright, flashing LED board on the side of the road that is designed to catch eyeballs will do so, leading to accidents. However, is there evidence to back this up?
In regards to texting and driving, while there has been a lot of talk about their role in causing accidents, the fact is that the number of accidents has in fact continued to drop even as cell phone usage has skyrocketed. Yet, despite the lack of evidence, there are still those who insist this is the case, and are pushing for more legislation to eliminate distractions—distractions such as digital billboards.
If there were a sudden uptick in auto accidents, it would make sense to look for the culprit. But the fact that the auto accident rate, including the auto accident death rate, have been decreasing over the years, even as cell and LED billboard usage have increased, suggests that we may have a situation where there is a solution looking for a problem. In fact, the Huffington Post piece gets its data—all of which is circumstantial, meaning the data shows drivers look at digital signs longer than regular signs or billboards, not that there is in fact an increase in accidents in their immediate vicinity—from a source which opposes billboards for purely aesthetic reasons.
For proponents of digital billboards, the news that people’s attentions linger longer on such signs is good news. Whether or not that results in more accidents, though, is up for debate. The fact that the number of auto accidents have continued decreasing over the same time that the number of cell phones and digital signs have increased is at least suggestive that they are likely having little to no effect on the number of accidents.