Emotionally-themed billboard messaged can increase the level of distracted driving on roadways, according to a recent paper by the University of Alberta.
The study, published in Accident Analysis and Prevention, found that various billboards can invoke different emotions in drivers, with negative-themed messages being the most distracting.
An experiment conducted with university students using a driving simulator analyzed driver reactions to billboards containing negative words, (such as cancer, killer, or stress) positive words, (such as beach, love, happy,) or more neutral words.
While drivers reacted to billboards with emotionally charged words on both ends of the scale, the study found the negative words were the most distracting. While drivers tended to speed up after passing billboards with positive words, their actions tended to be generally safer than when passing negative themes. Drivers tended to slow down abruptly or swerve while passing negative billboards.
“Any kind of distraction is risky when you’re driving. But there would appear to be a larger risk when it comes to emotional stimuli,” said researcher Michelle Chan in a statement.
Researchers says the test shows drivers have natural reactions to billboard messages , which can further distract drivers from driving safely.