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Changes to road signs could make drivers pay more attention

Mar 9, 2015

Should road signs be more active?
Credit Ryan Elder

One way to prevent accidents might come from redesigning road signs. 

University of Michigan marketing professor Aradhna Krishna, and postdoctoral scholar Luca Cian are trying to find a way for drivers to do just that.

Together with co-author Ryan Elder of Brigham Young University they ran a series of studies that point us toward more compelling and effective road signs.

The study focuses on dynamic imagery, or still images of frozen action, and how we react to them.

Krishna says when you see photos with action, your mind actually finishes that particular motion. She gives the example of a photo of someone jumping and frozen in midair, saying our mind automatically finishes that motion and envisions the person landing back on the ground.

Krishna says we are hard wired to notice movement, or in this case, the perception of movement, as we are always looking for danger.

"We started wondering what kind of reaction, what kind of effect it would have on drivers if traffic signs were changed to be more dynamic in nature," Krishna says.

The study tested traffic signs with various levels of dynamism, making note of how much time the eye took to see each sign. They then tested the signs with a driving simulation to see how long drivers’ reaction time was.

The results showed a difference in reaction time between the signs with varying levels of dynamism.

Cian says they aren't looking to make drastic changes in how signs look.

"The difference between a less dynamic sign and a more dynamic sign is very subtle, but this very subtle difference in terms of design is able to lead to a very big difference in terms of reaction time," says Cian.

Krishna says they don't expect every sign to change, but they would love to see their studies used in some way. And she says it's not just traffic signs this could work for, but all kinds of warning signs.

- Katrina Shafer, Stateside Staff