Negative words on billboards were the most distracting for the drivers, said a researcher from University of Alberta.
Michele Chan, a PhD student of schools in psychology at the university, claims to have found that negative words such as "cancer," "war" and "abuse" were the most distracting words, which caused most drivers to slow down and swerve outside their track. Some drivers even crashed into trees, other vehicles and pedestrians.
Chan tested fellow students into a driving simulator. The test was similar to a playing video game. She asked the participants to drive a computer-generated road as billboards appeared with positive, natural and negative words.
"Billboards are already distracting enough," said Chan. "But then when you add the negative emotional content, it adds on to the driving effects, so that can be detrimental to driving."
Results did not differ by age or gender, but students with less driving experience were easily distracted by the ads on the road, she added. The study was recently published in a journal called Accident Analysis and Prevention.
Positive words like "love," "happy" and "excitement" also provoke the test drivers but they are inclined to speed up as they passed the billboards, although driving was safe. "With the positive (words), they actually drive pretty well," said Chan.
Chan is keen on developing the research as soon as she gets more high-tech driving simulator which can show images on billboards. "They tend to capture more attention, so drivers tend to look at them longer and pay less attention to the driving task."
She believes authorities should implement some measures that can control the content of billboards.
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