Are Electronic Traffic Messages Safe For Drivers?

When driving around Chicagoland area and most of the state of Illinois, drivers see electronic signs on highways. These messages range from reminders to buckle up, warn of upcoming construction and even list the number of traffic deaths in the state that year. These messages are called electronic dynamic message signs (“DMSs”).

These messages are obviously posted to help keep drivers on alert and hopefully keep them safe. Two researches recently published a paper after studying these sign for the Texas Department of Transportation. The study looked at the effectiveness of these signs and whether they actually improve safety for drivers in the immediate area of the signes.

The study compared crashes downstream of DMSs across the state during periods when traffic safety messages with fatality numbers were being displayed versus not being displayed. To control for other possible factors influencing their results, they also compared crashes on those same roadway segments before the fatality message campaign began and on roadway segments upstream of the DMSs. They concluded that the display of traffic safety messages with fatality numbers resulted in a 1.35% increase in traffic crashes up to 10 km downstream of the DMSs.

The researchers concluded that messages with fatality numbers are overly salient to drivers. In other words, the messaging on deaths can cloud a drivers brain with too much worry and ulitimately distract them. Another hypothesis of the study was that the design of the signs can cause information overload, and again distract a driver.

The study did not assess other factors such as crash type or other causal factors. I believe additional analysis is needed to ensure these numbers aren’t just a coincidence. There is additional informatin we need to know such as were there weather factors or were the drivers on their phones? Or were they struck by an impaired or distracted driver that was coming in the opposite direction? This information would give us a clearer answer as to wether the DMSs were actually causing the roads to be more dangerous or whehter these numbers are just an aberration.

If you or a loved one have been seriously injured in a Chicago car accident or Chicago truck accident, please call Chicago personal injury lawyer, Aaron J. Bryant, for a free legal consultation at 312-614-1076.