The National Academies

BTSCRP BTS-02 [Active]

Guide for Behavioral Traffic Safety Messaging on Variable Message Signs

  Project Data
Funds: $350,000
Staff Responsibility: Richard Retting
Research Agency: Texas A&M Transportation Institute
Principal Investigator: Gerald Ulllman
Effective Date: 11/28/2018
Completion Date: 11/30/2021
Comments: Research underway

Variable message signs (VMS), also referred to as changeable, electronic, or dynamic message signs, are programmable signs used on highways throughout the United States. These signs provide drivers with information relating to traffic updates, roadwork warnings, traffic crashes, and other traffic and safety-related information. These signs have been in use since the early 1950s. Behavioral traffic safety messages (e.g., “Don’t Drink and Drive”, “Click It or Ticket”) were first displayed on VMS in 2009-10. Tennessee was one of the first states to use VMS to show the number of roadway fatalities. Currently many states use this technology to support their public awareness programs.
Several studies investigated the usefulness and effectiveness of VMS safety messages, in particular, how the messages influence driver behavior, how attentive the public is to the message, and ways agencies could optimize safety messages on VMS. However, there are several unanswered questions about this practice, including: Which states display behavioral safety messages on VMS? What messages are currently being used? When and where are the messages displayed? What administrative policies and procedures regulate this initiative? And, what are the barriers hampering optimal use of this practice?
The objective of this research is to develop a guide for the use of variable message signs (VMS) to deliver behavioral traffic safety announcements.
The guide should address all aspects of VMS use from policy development through implementation. The guide should address a broad range of topics related to enhancing motor vehicle operator safety through the use of VMS on all roadways, such as, but not limited to:
  • Current state of the practice, both nationally and internationally;
  • Administrative policies and procedures to determine the use of safety messages;
  • Categorize message types (e.g., theme, style);
  • Message selection (who, when, where, how, and why);
  • Analyze the characteristics (e.g., message design, size, color, speed of switching between messages) of VMS;
  • Strategies that could enhance the understanding of various driver groups (e.g., older drivers and bilingual drivers);
  • Differences in use between rural and urban environments;
  • Impacts (both intended and unintended) and effectiveness of traffic safety messaging;
  • Barriers to implementation; and
  • Recommendations to enhance coordinated traffic safety strategies.
The BTSCRP is seeking the insights of proposers on how best to achieve the research objective. Proposers are expected to describe research plans that can be realistically accomplished within the constraints of available funds and contract time. Proposals must present the proposer’s current thinking in sufficient detail to demonstrate their understanding of the issues and the soundness of their approach to meeting the research objective.
A kick-off teleconference of the research team and BTSCRP shall be scheduled within 1 month of the contract’s execution. The work plan must be divided into two phases (defined by the proposer) with tasks, with each task described in detail. There must be an interim report and a face-to-face meeting scheduled with BTSCRP to discuss the interim report. The final deliverables will include (1) a guide for the use of variable message signs (VMS) to deliver behavioral traffic safety announcements; (2) a final report documenting the entire project, incorporating all other specified deliverables of the research; (3) an electronic presentation on the guide that can be tailored for specific audiences; (4) a webinar to inform practitioners of the guide; (5) a presentation on the project to the GHSA Executive Board or the GHSA annual meeting; and (6) recommendations on needs and priorities for additional research. Proposers may recommend additional deliverables and presentations to support the project objective.
STATUS: Research underway.

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