The effect advertisements on VMSs may have on drivers’ reaction to relevant traffic information: an unexpected finding

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractAcademic


Introduction Road authorities around the globe struggle with the question whether variable message signs (VMSs) should solely be used for traffic management or can also be used to display traffic-irrelevant messages, such as commercial advertisements. The main questions in this matter concern 1) traffic safety (“will commercial advertisements on VMSs distract the driver?”) and 2) traffic flow management (“will the VMS still make drivers aware of traffic management information in the long-term, once it also displays traffic-irrelevant advertisements?”). Method These questions have been addressed in a literature review followed by a repeated measures experiment in a driving simulator. For this, thirty-two participants drove the same VMS-equipped motorway eight times before encountering a critical route instruction on its VMS (see Figure 1, right). During these eight drives, one group of participants became familiarised to the VMS always being blank while for the other group it always displayed an advertisement. Figure 1. Example of an overhead VMS on a Dutch motorway (left) and in the driving simulator (right), informing drivers to deviate from their route as the road ahead is closed. Results Results showed that 1) the principles which determine whether or not information may distract, do not appear to distinguish between traffic information, road safety messages or commercial advertisements. There are yet no reasons to assume that presenting commercial advertisements on VMSs will have more negative effects than displaying road safety slogans or traffic-related information on VMSs. 2) Although it appeared some participants were ‘blind’ for the route instruction, there was no evidence this was triggered by traffic-irrelevant information; compliance with the route instruction was similar in both groups. However, participants in the advertisements group did appear to be less surprised by the route instruction, resulting in less severe braking. Discussion In conclusion, this study provides no evidence that VMSs cannot safely be used to display non-traffic related messages, such as commercial advertisements, provided they meet general ergonomic principles for VMS messages (Dicke & Brookhuis, 2008) and exclude specific characteristics known to distract drivers (Kroon, Martens, Brookhuis, & Hagenzieker, 2014; SWOV, 2012). Continuously displaying messages did not make drivers more ‘blind’ for changes in electronic messages. Contrary to expectations based on change blindness theory, both the current study as well as other studies on electronic signs (Harms & Brookhuis, 2014; Jamson & Merat, 2007), showed there was no evidence for reduced perception of signs when these were preceded by other active signs. References Dicke-Ogenia, M., & Brookhuis, K.A. (2008). Improved access to cities through travel information on a full colour information panel. Proceedings of the European Transportation Conference 2008, Leeuwenhorst Conference Center, The Netherlands. Harms, I.M., & Brookhuis, K.A. (2014). Traffic managed? Why not all drivers can adhere to changes in speed limit signals over the road. Paper presented at the 28th International Congress of Applied Psychology (ICAP 2014), Paris, France. Jamson, A.H., & Merat, N. (2007). The effectiveness of safety campaign VMS messages - a driving simulator investigation. Proceedings of The 4th International Driving Symposium on Human Factors in Driver Assessment, Training, and Vehicle Design, 2007, pp. 459-465. Kroon, E.C.M., Martens, M.H., Brookhuis, K.A., & Hagenzieker, M.P. (2014). Human factor guidelines for the design of safe in-car traffic information services. Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, Delft. SWOV (2012). Distraction caused by roadside advertising and information. SWOV, Institute for Road Safety Research, Leidschendam, the Netherlands.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventInternational Conference on Traffic and Transport Psychology 2016 - Brisbane, Australia
Duration: 2-Aug-20165-Aug-2016


ConferenceInternational Conference on Traffic and Transport Psychology 2016
Abbreviated titleICTTP 2016
Internet address

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