Highway Death Toll Warning Signs May Be Causing More Crashes

By Robert Preidt HealthDay Reporter

HealthDay Reporter

According to new research, on Friday, April 22, 2022 (HealthDay News), displaying highway death tolls on roadside message boards to prevent accidents may lead to more accidents. That’s because they divert drivers, the researchers said. At least 27 states have employed similar messaging. The new study concentrated on Texas, where officials chose to post highway death tolls every Monday.

“People have a limited attention span,” said study co-author Joshua Madsen, an assistant professor of management at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. “When a driver’s cognitive load is already full, adding an attention-grabbing, sobering reminder of highway deaths might be a dangerous diversion.”

Madsen and his team compared Texas traffic accident statistics from January 2010 to July 2012 to August 2012 through December 2017, when the campaign was active. They also tracked weekly changes each month throughout the campaign.

According to the study, when death numbers were displayed on the 10 kilometers (6.21 miles) of highway near a city every week for weeks, there were 4.5% more collisions than in message-free weeks.

Prior research revealed that previous studies compared increasing the speed limit by 3 to 5 miles per hour, reducing highway cops by 6% to 14%, or lowering the speed limit. According to a study published on April 21 in Science, road fatality messages result in an extra 2,600 accidents and 16 deaths in Texas each year.

According to the study’s authors, this is because “in-your-face” messaging about road deaths impairs drivers’ capacity to respond to changes in traffic conditions. According to the findings, the number of fatalities associated with the alerts increased as the death toll rose. The most occurred in January when messages displayed the total number of deaths from the previous year.

The study also revealed that collisions rose in areas where drivers must pay more attention, such as heavy traffic or passing numerous message boards.

“We found this was the case,” stated study co-author Jonathan Hall. “However, messages had no impact on single-vehicle crashes.” According to Hall, an assistant professor of public policy at the University of Toronto in Canada.

This is in keeping with drivers who have a lot on their minds, such as losing attention while driving and making more minor mistakes because of distraction, such as veering out of a lane rather than onto the road.

When displayed death tolls were low, and messages appeared in locations with less highway complexity, the researchers did discover a drop in collisions. According to Madsen, the results suggest that governments should explore alternative strategies for raising public awareness about road safety.

“Distracted driving is a hazardous form of driving,” he added. “Perhaps these initiatives might be repurposed to reach drivers in a safer way, such as when they are stopped at an intersection so that their attention while driving remains on the road.”

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