Are Variable Message Signs Causing More Accidents Than They Prevent?

We are taught the importance of road signs before we even get behind the wheel in Driver’s Ed. Road signs help us regulate our speed, control 4-way stops, get us ready for sharp turns and speed bumps, prevent us from turning into oncoming traffic, and much more.

However, not all signage is created equally. For the majority of road signs, we memorize their meanings so that we can read them in the future in a split second. If we spend too much time reading these signs, however, they have the potential to serve as a distraction.

New Study On Variable Message Signs

A recent study conducted in Texas compiled eight years of data to reach conclusions about the helpfulness of variable message signs (VMS), otherwise known as changeable, electronic, or dynamic message signs.

The main takeaways were:

  • VMS were found to have an immediate negative impact after implementation.

  • The messages that were studied concerned driving fatalities.

  • The higher the fatality number displayed, the bigger the increase in car accidents.

Previous Studies

The effect of these VMS has been scrutinized on and off in the past few years, and conclusions have differed.

Studies/speculation includes:

  1. Straightforward Safety Message Study – Drivers claimed to want to change their minds after reading simple safety messages, but their behavior resulting from these feelings was not actually measured.

  2. Virginia’s Uncertain Stance – In the past year, Virginia has focused a lot on safety signage. A study from the VDOT and Virginia Tech found that humor and wordplay were effective in increasing driver comprehension, recall, and potential positive behavioral changes. On the other hand, Virginia officials also noted that traffic fatalities had also increased during this time period.

There are just a few of the variables here when looking at the effects of these electronic signs:

  • Location – Statistics were examined in Texas, Virginia, and Iowa, among other states, and traffic circumstances vary considerably across the country.

  • Sign Message – The latest study focused on traffic fatality messages in particular while other types of signs were included in other discussions.

  • The Pandemic – 2020 was an anomaly when it came to traffic statistics overall, so it’s hard to make sense of data from that year.

What This Means For New York

As of the time of this article, a town outside of Albany called Guilderland is deliberating over banning these electronic message signs outright within the town, citing safety concerns for driver distraction. Whether or not any other New York jurisdictions follow suit remains to be seen.

Were You Hit by a Distracted Driver?

Distracted driving for any reason is a major contributing factor to car accidents. If you were injured in a car accident in New York City and need the representation of an expert injury attorney, get in touch with Koenigsberg & Associates Law Offices online, or give us a call at (718) 690-3132. We provide free consultations.