Use of More Non-traditional Safety Messages on Message Signs Is Suggested to Achieve Higher Levels of Cognitive Attention Among Drivers.

Virginia study finds non-traditional safety messages about distracted driving and drinking and driving are most memorable.

Date Posted

Driver Response to Dynamic Message Sign Safety Campaign Messages

Summary Information

The development and use of non-traditional safety messages are distinctly different than messages typically displayed on highway signs. Such messages attempt to provoke an emotional response and may reference themes like popular culture, sports, or use rhymes.

This study quantified the effectiveness of non-traditional dynamic message sign messages based on driver responses. For the study, 300 drivers in Virginia were surveyed about 80 messages concerning general safe driving topics, such as driving without a seat belt, impaired and drowsy driving, aggressive driving, and distracted driving. The participants were asked about their perception of these messages to change driver behavior, to identify the intent of the message, and to recall messages they had seen. A novel neuroimaging instrument called functional near - infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) was used to quantify the differences in how non-traditional messages are received, processed, and cognitively interpreted by drivers.

The following suggestions are recommended for developing new messages based on the empirical findings:

  • Distracted driving messages should represent a high proportion of non-traditional safety messages because messages about distracted driving, drinking and driving, and messages that include statistics are more memorable compared to other message intents and themes.
  • “Messages should address a specific behavior change (e.g., wearing a seat belt, not driving impaired). The more specific the intended behavior change, the more likely drivers comprehend the intent of the message.”
  • “Inappropriateness of messages is not a concern for most participants. If inappropriateness is a concern for message creators, some suggestions are to not develop messages that single out groups of people.”
  • Messages should use word play, rhyming, statistics and/or attempt to evoke an emotional response whenever possible. Such messages command the most cognitive attention or engagement compared to other types of messages. Messages that mentioned sports should be avoided since they are generally less understood compared to other message themes.
  • Factors such as age, race and area type should be considered when designing non-traditional safety messages as specific groups of people perceive the messages as more effective and command a high level of cognitive attention.
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