Distracted drivers are known to cause accidents, and there has been a lot of focus on cell phone use and texting as causes of distraction. In addition to those types of distraction that take place inside the car, drivers should also be aware of roadside distractions.
Roadside advertising, especially electronic billboards and sign spinners, are forms of distraction that have the potential for causing accidents.
According to a recent study, a two-second distraction of any kind more than doubles the risk of a crash or near crash. Another study, this one done by Virginia Tech for the outdoor advertising industry itself, showed that drivers take their eyes off the road for two seconds or longer twice as often when they are looking at digital advertising signs than when they are looking at traditional billboards —or no billboards at all. This study was conducted in daylight. The researchers predicted that driver distraction from digital roadside ads would be far worse at night, but the sponsor did not care to conduct a nighttime study.
Another area of concern with respect to driver distraction is the fairly recent trend among businesses to employ the services of sign spinners, sometimes called human directionals. They stand by the roadside with advertising signs, often in the shape of arrows directing drivers to the business location. Many of these people, who are on foot, are in costumes, and they frequently twirl the signs or put on a performance meant to attract the attention of drivers passing by. There have not been any studies of sign spinning specifically as a cause of driver distraction, but the job of the sign spinner is to attract the attention of drivers who should be focused on the road. It stands to reason that the better the performance, the greater the likelihood of a distraction in excess of two seconds having a crash occur.
There have been instances of sign spinners being hit by cars. We recently reported on a sign spinner in Naples who was struck and killed when an SUV failed to make a turn on the corner where the man was working.
Some jurisdictions have banned this form of advertising, but this has been controversial.
The bottom line is that the responsibility for avoiding distraction rests with the driver; drivers need to be aware of the many potential sources of distraction, both inside and outside of the car, and should focus attention where it needs to be—on the road—to prevent unnecessary crashes.