Digital billboards & traffic safety

januari 15th, 2014 • By: Fred Kuhlman Uncategorized












For many years the debate is going on about the effects of digital billboards on traffic safety. At this moment two studies claim opposite opinions. A good reason to look into this matter. It will become clear that (as always) research funded by the industry is not supported by the views from anti-billboards organizations (e.g. Scenic America).

SWEDISH RESEARCH: digital billboards distract drivers

(sources: Traffic Injury Prevention and Occupational Health & Safety)

A study by Virginia Tech for NHTSA (2006) found anything that takes a driver’s eyes off the road for more than two seconds greatly increases the risk of a crash. That study found nearly 80 percent of all crashes involve driver inattention within three seconds of the crash.

Swedish and German researchers have published (January 2013) a study in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention in which they found digital billboards attract and hold drivers’ gazes longer than a threshold that previous studies have shown to be dangerous. The study found that drivers looked at these colorful, rapidly changing billboards significantly longer than they do at other signs on the same stretch of road – the digital versions often took a driver’s eyes off the road for more than two seconds.

“Bright, constantly changing signs on the side of the road are meant to attract and keep the attention of drivers, and this study confirms that is exactly what they do,” said Mary Tracy, president of Scenic America, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit organization advocating for preserving the visual character of America’s communities and countryside. “This study validates what is common sense when it comes to digital billboards”.

Method: a total of 41 drivers were recruited to drive an instrumented vehicle passing 4 of the electronic billboards during day and night conditions. A driver was considered visually distracted when looking at a billboard continuously for more than 2 seconds or if the driver looked away form the road for a high percentage of time. Dependent variables were eye-tracking measures and driving performance measures.

Results: the visual behavior showed that drivers had a significantly longer dwell time, a greater number of fixations, and longer maximum fixation duration when driving past an electronic billboard compared to other signs on the same road stretches. No differences were found for the factors day/night, and no effect was found for the driving behavior data.

Conclusion: electronic billboards haven an effect on gaze behavior by attracting more and longer glances than regular traffic signs. Whether the electronic billboards attract too much attention and constitute a traffic safety hazard cannot be answered conclusively based on the present data.

USA RESEARCH: digital billboards do not distract drivers

(sources: DAILYDOOH and The Hill)

A study released in January 2014 by the Federal Highway Administration (Department of Transportation /DOT) concluded that drivers are not more likely to be distracted by digital billboards than stationary signs. The study surveyed drivers in Richmond, Va., and Reading, Pa., and found that the average length of time drivers spent looking at digital billboards was 379 milliseconds, compared to 335 milliseconds for standard signs. Results were both well below the currently accepted threshold of 2,000 milliseconds, the study said.

On average, the drivers in this study devoted between 73% and 85% of their visual attention to the road ahead for both digital and standard billboards. This range is consistent with earlier field research studies. In the present study, the presence of digital billboards did not appear to be related to a decrease in looking toward the road ahead.

Nancy Fletcher, president of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, translated this: “The longest glance in the direction of a digital billboard was 1.3 seconds, well below the safety threshold established in 2006 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The 2006 report from NHTSA said risk of accidents/near accidents increases with glances in excess of two seconds.”

“The results did not provide evidence indicating that digital billboards were associated with unacceptably long glances away from the road,” the new DOT study says. “When dwell times longer than the currently accepted threshold of 2,000 milliseconds occurred, the road ahead was still in the driver’s field of view. This was the case for both digital billboards and standard billboards.”

The results were (of course) welcomed by the OAAA, which has pushed the transportation department to relax its rules regarding digital billboards. “Studies have long shown that digital billboards do not cause distracted driving,” the OAAA said in a statement. “The new federal study released on Dec. 30 comes to the same conclusion.”

Discussion about the results of the FHWA/DOT study

(source: article by Myron Levin from FairWarning, NBCNews, January 15, 2014)

Today, of more than 400,000 billboards in the U.S., estimates of digital displays range from slightly more than 2,000 to as many as 3,200. The industry has been adding hundreds of the more-profitable signs each year. Billboard companies are moving aggressively to plant digital signs along U.S. highways and city streets. But debate persists on whether the eye-grabbing displays, which typically change messages every 6 to 8 seconds, pose a risk to traffic safety.

According to records obtained by FairWarning under the Freedom of Information Act, expert reviewers have told the FHWA that the study appears to have been botched. The key findings vary so wildly from previous research that, as one reviewer put it, they “are not plausible.”

Combatants in the billboard wars – including local and state officials under industry pressure to permit more of the lucrative signs – are eager for a study by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). They have hoped that the much-anticipated study, launched in 2007, would help clarify some key safety questions.

Yet the politically sensitive research, which was supposed to have been wrapped up in 2009, remains cloaked in mystery. All the FHWA has said, time after time, is that the study is under review.

Almost impossible

In the FHWA study, recorded glances were so brief that none came close to 2 seconds or even 1.6 seconds. Only about 1 percent were above three-quarters of a second. In fact, the average was slightly below one-tenth of a second – a number both expert reviewers considered almost impossible.

“The reported glances to billboards here are on the order of 10-times shorter than values reported elsewhere,” one reviewer wrote. “The pattern of results certainly raises questions over the quality and legitimacy of the underlying data.’’ The other said, “The data reported as average glance durations are not plausible.” Two other experts contacted by FairWarning confirmed that the data was highly suspect.

Alison Smiley, president of Human Factors North, Inc., in Toronto, said the glance times were “extremely short’’ and substantially at odds with her own studies.

Paul A. Green, a research professor at the University of Michigan Transportation Institute, said glances so brief would mean the drivers “never really looked’’ at the billboards. “It’s a flaw in the data,” Green said. “You wonder, if they made this mistake did they make other mistakes?”

15 Largest Outdoor Advertising Groups

oktober 9th, 2012 • By: Fred Kuhlman Market developments

The annual report from JCDecaux shows a clear overview of the 15 largest outdoor advertising groups, based on their 2011 revenues.

According to ZenithOptimedia total worldwide outdoor advertising spending was approximately €22,2 billion. The 15 largest companies have 40% share in total spending, which means that there are many companies with revenues less than €100 million.

The total worldwide advertising spending was estimated at €326 billion. This means that OOH has a share of 6,8% in the total spending.

Clear Channel strengthens position in the Netherlands

november 29th, 2011 • By: Fred Kuhlman Uncategorized

Outdoor Advertising operator Hillenaar Outdoor Advertising (a Clear Channel company) has taken over all outdoor objects of Brouwer & Partners (local Dutch company). Hillenaar now has reach in 250 citiesand is thus at once a key player in the out-of-home market. “We are very proud,” says director Jeroen Hillenaar. “The doubling of our number of panels makes us the largest operator in terms of reach and our Abri’s generate the highest contact frequency.”

The acquisition provides Hillenaar national coverage and can better meet the needs of advertisers. “In addition to our current presence in eg Amsterdam, The Hague, Emmen and Parkstad Limburg, we are now prominent in Eindhoven, Den Bosch and Zaanstad” explains Hillenaar.

According to data from MediaXim (gross advertising expenditure by the parties participating in the Outdoor Advertising Platform) market share is 17% of the new combination. In the market of bus shelters, the share is even greater.

The new combination achieves the Dutch market for the main segment, the shelters, a 21% market share. Thus, the company remains well behind CBS Outdoor and JCDecaux, but it will be an interesting proposition for media planners can offer. CBS Outdoor will remain strong through its exclusive relationship with NS and a wide rural area, JCDecaux is and remains the market leader through exclusive relationships with most major cities.

There are currently two key contracts that market shares do change (or unchanged): Amsterdam (very soon to clarify this) and Haaglanden (this tender is at present).

Amsterdam City Council has started tender for bus shelter contract

juni 15th, 2011 • By: Fred Kuhlman Uncategorized

The long awaited and biggest tender in recent years on June 14 launched. It is expected that all major players show interest and will send in their offer for this important concession for the Dutch outdoor advertising market. Currently JCDecaux is the contract partner for the City of Amsterdam.

The party to whom the concession is warranted, given the right to operate in the municipality of Amsterdam to take care of all shelters and information panels. All A-sides of the Information Panels are reserved for municipal purposes, such as city maps or local campaigns, unless the municipality at a location of the B-side wants. Currently there are 1700 bus shelters and 500 Information Panels.

City marketing is part of this contract.

The Agreement has from the start operation (July 1, 2012) a term of 15 years with an option to extend the contract by five years.

The green case against digital billboards

januari 21st, 2011 • By: Fred Kuhlman Uncategorized

This is reprint from, written by Barnaby Page.

While digital outdoor’s many critics in the U.S. have largely focused on traffic safety and light pollution, a Pennsylvania architect and urban planner has opened a new front, charging that digital sites consume vastly more energy than conventional billboards.

A paper from Gregory Young, available from the Scenic America pressure group and produced in collaboration with Philadelphia’s Society Created to Reduce Urban Blight (SCRUB), says that static billboards annually consume less energy than an average U.S. home – about 7000kWh for an advertising site and 11,000kWh for a household – but digital outdoor signs can require more than 40 times as much as their non-digital counterparts.

Among the worst performers are billboards from Eraled, ThinkSign and Optec, the report says, with one Optec unit eating 324,000kWh a year. The best performers include Barco and Lighthouse, with power consumption assessed by Young at 74,000kWh and 93,000kWh respectively.

“Out-of-home advertising is simply not an appropriate or responsible application for digital technology,” the report says. It dismisses the contention that digital billboards should gain green kudos because LEDs are more energy-efficient than the conventional light sources used to illuminate static billboards.

“These claims overlook one key bit of common sense: whereas traditional, static signage is illuminated by two or three ‘inefficient’ lamps at night time, digital signs are comprised of hundreds, if not thousands, of ‘green’ LED bulbs, each using 2-10W, lit 24 hours a day. For instance, a 14-by-48-foot LED billboard can have between 900 and 10,000 diodes,” the report says.

“Bulb-to-bulb comparisons are irrelevant in this context,” it concludes.

To exacerbate matters, says Young, digital billboards are frequently operated at higher brightness levels than necessary. He notes that when digital-signage technology supplier Noventri experimented with running displays at half-brightness, it reduced power consumption by nearly 40 percent without sacrificing readability.

But it is not only lighting that attracts Young’s scepticism. He notes that digital billboards also draw power for their cooling systems, especially during periods of hot weather, when they add to the already onerous load on the power grid imposed by buildings’ air conditioning.

He quotes a suggestion that digital billboards will need to be replaced roughly every 11 years, as opposed to 15 years for static billboards, and says that when defunct they generate more waste, although he acknowledges that digital units “lack the potentially toxic adhesives” used in static signs.

What’s to be done?

Timing his report to coincide with a major revamp of Philadelphia’s zoning rules, Young does not propose an all-out ban similar to those that have been enacted in cities such as Denver and Dallas, but calls for tight restrictions on light levels and hours of operation.

He begins by advising that the zoning rules should “include any and all digital signage, defined as any sign capable of displaying words, symbols, figures or images that can be electronically or mechanically changed by remote or automatic means, not just those that are animated, flashing, or intermittent, which can be subjective descriptions”.

Among his prescriptions for acceptable operation are that “the illumination projected from any [sign] shall at no time exceed 0.1 foot-candle onto a residential [site], and 1.0 foot-candle onto a non-residential [site]. This should apply to light emitted from any form of signage, on-premise or off-premise. We also propose specific luminance limits of 100 nits for night-time conditions, applicable to all digital signage.”

Further, suggests Young, “off-premises digital signs [should] be extinguished automatically no later than 11pm each evening until dawn. Signs for establishments that operate or remain open past 11pm [should] remain on no later than one half hour past the close of the establishment.”

Draconian requirements, perhaps, but what’s unusual about Young’s contribution to the debate over digital billboards is that he scarcely mentions the generalised concept of visual blight; deals in quantifiables; and proposes restrictions that seem achievable, albeit undesirable for media owners, rather than refusing to settle for anything short of an outright prohibition. The shape of Philadelphia’s rewritten zoning code will show whether that approach is persuasive to the planners.

Oh no they don’t

Meanwhile, one digital-billboard vendor was quick to respond to the publicity received by Young’s report. Yesco Electronics says its units require just a quarter of the power they used six years ago, and that consumption is continuing to drop.

Yesco even says that at night its billboards use less power than “most traditionally-illuminated billboards”.

“We have seen a steady decrease in power requirements year over year, and expect the trend to continue,” said VP and general manager Rod Wardle. “In 2011, we anticipate another year-over-year decrease of 25 percent in power consumption.

“Rapid improvements in efficiency make yesterday’s power-consumption data out-of-date,” he added in an apparent reference to Young’s paper.