Roadside messages to encourage safe driving may have opposite effect, study shows

Crashes increased in the area around the signs.

By Michael MarksApril 28, 2022 3:13 pm,

Signs encouraging motorists to drive safely are common along Texas’ busiest roadways. Some of them say how many people have died on the road this year. Others have a clever message like “Slow down, you’re already in Texas.” These messages may have the opposite of their intended effect, however.

Joshua Madsen, an associate professor of accounting at the University of Minnesota, spoke to the Texas Standard about a study in Science Magazine he co-authored on the traffic safety messages’ effectiveness.

When asked whether the Texas Department of Transportation was aware of the study, the agency‘s media relations director, Veronica Beyer, responded with this statement:

“The real issues around traffic fatalities in Texas are speed, distracted driving, impaired driving and people not wearing seat belts,” Madsen said. “We appreciate any focus on safety and the critical need to inspire drivers to make the best decisions behind the wheel. In relation to this particular study, there are too many unknowns to draw any firm conclusions, to include assumptions made by the study authors regarding driver psychology and behavior. “

Providing statistics about traffic deaths doesn’t cause motorists to behave batter, Madsen says.

“We continually evaluate the effectiveness of our safety messages, and for quite some time now, we have not shared fatality numbers on the dynamic messaging signs (DMS),” he said. “We look for every way to make our roads as safe as possible, and to use effective measures to remind drivers that most of the time they have the power in their hands to help prevent fatalities on our roadways.”

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