Road Signs with More Action Could Save Lives

Author Details

David Dexter

Communications Coordinator

Organization: California Pan-Ethnic Health Network

Go to California Pan-Ethnic Health Network

Yesterday we talked about the upcoming California Transportation Choices Summit 2015, hosted by TransForm in Sacramento on April 27th. Don’t forget to register for that, because it’s going to be great.

We talked about the importance of complete streets, which promote safety of all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and public transit riders. This week, researchers from the University of Michigan and Brigham Young University released some interesting findings that could provide a simple way to improve pedestrian safety.

The study, published in the latest Journal of Consumer Research, finds that if a road sign depicts figures in a more active state, then motorists react significantly faster. Here’s a good overview from the study’s author:

“A sign that evokes more perceived movement increases the observer’s perception of risk, which in turn brings about earlier attention and earlier stopping,” said study co-author Ryan Elder a professor in BYU’s Marriott School of Management. “If you want to grab attention, you need signs that are more dynamic. … If the figures look like they’re walking, then your brain doesn’t worry about them shooting out into the road. But if they’re running, then you can imagine them being in front of your car in a hurry.”

The study found that a driver of a car going 60 miles per hour could react 50 milliseconds faster to more dynamic warning signs. This would result in stopping 4.4 feet shorter.

It’s exciting that such research is being done on seemingly simple things that could produce much-needed change. California should look into any strategies that could reduce pedestrian injuries, considering the state’s higher-than-average rate of accidents. In their terrific report, Dangerous by Design 2014: California, Smart Growth America and the National Complete Streets Coalition found that in California from 2003–2012, 6,-z  deaths disproportionately impacted communities of color, with Native Americans (3.68 per 100,000), African Americans (3.25), and Latinos (2.48) all having significantly higher pedestrian fatality rates than Whites (2.08).

We need to do better to make our streets safer, and if changing the road signs to make them more active will help, it might be a strategy worth pursuing. And if you’re inspired and want to find more ways you can be involved, register for the California Transportation Choices Summit!