Distraction - How distracting are (illuminated) advertising billboards along the road?

Advertising billboards may result in changes in driving behaviour and visual attention of drivers. Research shows that drivers are slower to react, need longer braking distance and zigzag more in the presence of advertising billboards (see for example [29] [30] [31]). A majority of studies into the effects of advertising billboards on visual attention find that drivers more often take their eyes off the road in the presence of advertising billboards. This is particularly true for billboards with moving images, emotional advertisements or billboards in one’s central field of view (for an overview see [16]). On the basis of existing research, no unequivocal conclusions may be drawn about the relationship between the placement of advertising billboards and a higher risk of road crashes. By way of illustration: Israeli research found a decrease in the number of road crashes after the removal of static billboards [32], whereas a Canadian study showed that the presence of digital illuminated billboards (rotating billboards which alternate ads every few seconds) had not resulted in a higher crash risk [33].

In addition to commercial ads, road safety is also ‘advertised’, and information and advice about traffic flow and congestion are given. Although these information signs are meant to improve road safety, they could also distract drivers in the same way as billboards do, with a contrary and unintentional negative effect on road safety. Research into these unintentional negative effects has, as far as we know, never been carried out.

Most countries have guidelines for (digital) advertising billboards along the road. In the Netherlands, a CROW guideline ‘Advertisements along the roads’ recommends diminishing distraction by advertising billboards by placing them at a safe distance from the road, not to let them resemble traffic-relevant information and to avoid undesirable content (which may for example evoke strong negative emotions) [34].


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