Digital Billboard Safety Studies

It seems common sense that digital billboards are distracting, after all, that’s their job.  But while the billboard industry tells advertisers “drivers won’t be able to avoid them,” they tell regulators that the signs don’t pose a safety hazard.

Updated February 2018: Compendium of digital billboard safety studies

Click here for a summarized compendium of recent billboard safety studies by noted human factors expert Jerry Wachtel of the Veridian Group.

recent study involving digital billboards and driver safety was conducted by the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute and funded by the Swedish Transport Administration, found that drivers looked at digital billboards significantly longer than they did at other signs on the same stretch of road, with the digital signs often taking a driver’s eyes off the road for more than two seconds.  Click here for more information on this study.

July 2007 saw the release of two industry-sponsored studies which concluded that digital billboards are no more likely to case traffic accidents than conventional billboards. The billboard industry has since cited the studies numerous times as evidence that the proliferation of digital billboards poses no safety threat to the motoring public.

An objective, expert analysis of the studies has been prepared for the Maryland State Highway Administration by Jerry Wachtel, a highly regarded traffic safety expert. His report is extremely critical of the conclusions and methodology of both studies and effectively debunks them.  Click here to download the report as a PDF document.

A study on the safety of digital billboards has been completed by the Federal Highway Administration, but its results have not been made public and we don’t know when or if we can expect them to be.  But the following documents contain information that is important to the current debate. The titles of the documents below are links to their PDF versions.

The Impact of Driver Inattention on Near-Crash/Crash Risk: An Analysis Using the 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study Data

April 2006, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation

A major study of driver inattention, primarily involving distractions inside the car, but finding that any distraction of over two seconds is a potential cause of crashes and near crashes.

Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, No. 1937, 2005
A study of electronic signs in Toronto, which finds that “On the basis of the eye fixation study and the pubic survey data, it is apparent that video advertising can distract drivers inappropriately and lead to individual crashes,” but calls for additional research due to other conflicting data.


September 2001, Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation
A summary of existing research (as of 2001), on the subject of the safety of electronic signs and a call for additional studies.


December 1994, Wisconsin Department of Transportation
Study of the dangers posed by an electronic sign in Milwaukee along I-94, that concluded that “It is obvious that the variable message sign has had an effect on traffic, most notably in the increase of the side swipe crash rate.”