Study Finds Highway Death Toll Signs May Be Causing More Crashes
Minneapolis (KROC AM News) - A new study has found an effort to get motorists to drive safely may be backfiring.
An assistant professor at the University of Minnesota is co-author of the study that focused on the use of electronic message boards that displayed the current highway death toll.
The study’s authors say the use of the signs is done as a way to increase awareness of the dangers of distracted driving. But they say their research “shows this tactic actually leads to more crashes.”
The study looked at data from Texas where officials displayed the messages one week each month. The researchers say they found there were more crashes during the week with fatality messaging compared to weeks without.
They found the bigger the number in the fatality message, the more harmful the effects.
They also found that crashes increased in areas where drivers experienced higher cognitive loads, such as heavy traffic or driving past multiple message boards. However, the researchers found there was a reduction in crashes when the displayed death tolls were low and when the message appeared where the highways were less complex.
According to the study, the findings suggest fatality messages cause an additional 2,600 crashes and 16 deaths per year in Texas, costing $377 million each year.
One author concludes “While the use of highway fatality messaging varies by state, agencies should consider alternative ways to raise awareness, such as when they are stopped at an intersection."
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