Motorcycle Awareness Billboard

Motorcycle Awareness Billboards

November 2006

Distracting Drivers … So They’ll Pay Attention?

Figures don’t lie, but liars figure. Nowhere is that old saying more applicable than to politics in general and motorcycling issues in particular. Few will argue, however, with the fact that consistently over the 10-year period from 1995 to 2004 about 90% of all U.S. motorcycle fatalities occurred on roads that are not divided or have no median barrier.

Why? Because that is where motorcyclists are most vulnerable to crashes (both single- and multi-vehicle) caused by right-of-way violations resulting from the negligence and inattentional blindness of distracted and impaired automobile drivers. And what can we do about it? Reduce the number of distracted and impaired drivers on the road. And how do we do that? By identifying the sources of driver distraction and impairment, and eliminating to the extent feasible those for which it is socially cost-effective, and not just politically expedient, to do so.

We already have DUI and vehicular homicide laws on the books to deter and punish drivers impaired by alcohol. And now, we have scientific evidence that drivers engaging in cell phone conversations (including those using hands-free devices) are just as impaired as someone with a .08 blood alcohol level, and consequently 4 times as likely to cause or be involved in a crash as unimpaired drivers.

Educate, Don’t Legislate does not apply to impairment, so it would be logically and ethically consistent to extend our DUI laws to cover the new DWI: Driving While Inattentive. In all fairness, and to avoid hypocrisy, we need to either…


Madd Ray Henke offers much more on this topic here:

Banning cell phone conversations while driving will mitigate a major proven distraction. Another distractor we need to take a long hard look at (pardon the pun) is ROADSIDE BILLBOARDS.

According to a study by the Center for Crash Causation and Human Factors at Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute (VTTI), “… billboards do not measurably affect driving performance:”

But that study is tainted by the fact that it was commissioned by the Foundation for Outdoor Advertising Research and Education (FOARE), which is administered by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, Inc. (OAAA), which is the lead trade association representing the outdoor advertising industry. Wikipedia puts it this way:

“Traffic safety experts have studied the relationship between outdoor advertising and traffic accidents since the 1950s, finding no authoritative or scientific evidence that billboards are linked to traffic accidents. However, many of these studies were funded by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, which has led to accusations of bias. The methodology used in certain studies is also questionable.”

Could it be that Big Advertising, like Big Tobacco, would much rather knock off some of their customers than kill a cash cow? A more objective and credible study is available here:

According to this study, entitled “External-To-Vehicle Driver Distraction” and commissioned by the Scottish Executive (the government of Scotland), “The evidence suggests that there are two specific situations where the risk factor of billboards and signs is at its highest:

at junctions [intersections], and

on long monotonous roads (such as motorways [interstates]).

There is overwhelming evidence that advertisements and signs placed near junctions can function as distractors, and that this constitutes a major threat to road safety. This is because these signs create visual ‘clutter’ thus making it harder for the driver to perceive traffic lights and other safety signs/devices. It is also likely that drivers can become distracted by lights or billboards on long ‘boring’ stretches of road. This may be because they are ‘caught by surprise’ when advertisements suddenly appear, or because they fixate on them and fail to concentrate on driving.” Wikipedia adds the following:

“[Studies] based on correlations between traffic accidents and billboards face the problem of under-reporting: drivers are unwilling to admit responsibility for a crash, so will not admit to being distracted at a crucial moment. Even given this limitation, some studies have found higher crash rates in the vicinity of advertising using variable message signs or electronic billboards.”

As I said earlier, figures don’t lie, but liars figure. Depending on whose research you choose to believe, roadside billboards may (or may not) be a major driver distraction. My personal observations and experience suggest they are. And IF they are, I think billboards are the last medium we’d want to use to convey our MSAP Motorcycle Awareness messages. After all…


Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!