Friday, April 19

There are more and more DGT variable messaging panels on the roads. They are not a great idea


Since 1990, when 5,736 people died on the roads, we have improved a lot. To give us an idea, 2021 ended with 1,004 deaths and that, in an annual context in which the average Spaniard spends 300 hours on the road and travels 12,000 kilometers, is impressive.

Much more impressive still if we take into account that, in short, most of the time we do not know very well what to do to reduce accidents. And the best example of this are the signs with information, advice and warnings that truffle the roads throughout the country. They are a cheap, direct and clear system of transmitting messages. The problem is that we do not know if these messages are of any use.

The (cheap) fashion of road signs. A team of Texas scientists decided to examine what real effect these signs that were beginning to appear on the sides of roads and highways had. Especially, they focused on the most ‘showy’: those that publish the number of annual deaths on the road.

Logic tells us that these types of messages capture the attention of drivers and that makes them more careful while driving. Today, ‘Science’ shows the results of a small study that confirms that it does attract attention, the problem is that the results are not as expected.

Traffic accidents plunged during confinement.  Instead, they were more serious

Houston, we have a problem. These researchers found that motorists who passed a message board announcing the number of fatal accidents were actually 4.5% more likely to have an accident in the next 10 kilometers than drivers who passed the same location in the next 10 kilometers. hours and with similar traffic, but with the blackboard turned off.

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This means that in Texas alone, where the phenomenon has been studied thanks to data from more than two years of data on the use of these boards, this type of intervention could be contributing to the generation of 2,600 accidents, 16 deaths and $377 million in additional costs per year.

How is it possible? The truth is that it is not clear: the study was designed to find variations in the number of accidents, but not to understand the mechanism that acted. However, researchers have some theory. The main one is the possibility that these types of messages “hijacked” drivers’ attention when it was most needed. That is, they would overload and saturate it enough to favor making mistakes.

It is not particularly surprising that certain stimuli can trigger accidents. In 2017, for example, nighttime motorcycle accidents were shown to increase when there was a full moon. In this sense, the researchers discovered that the more shocking the message that appears on the blackboards, the greater the probability of accidents.

What implications does all this have? The bottom line is that hell is paved with good intentions. In other words, good ideas must be accompanied by good evidence. It is not enough to launch initiatives no matter how logical and well-intentioned they may seem: they can end up being counterproductive.

New Traffic Law: the DGT fines that come into force today primarily persecute the use of mobile phones and scooters

In this sense, especially now that the DGT is making important changes in traffic regulation, the habit of adding scientific reports that guarantee the effectiveness of the measures should begin to be acquired. Only by monitoring and analyzing them in depth can we ensure that we are not creating a bigger problem than we are trying to solve.

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Image | DGT

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