Driver Response to Dynamic Message Sign Safety Campaign Messages

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


Unsafe driving habits increase the severity of roadway accidents. The behaviors that are generally associated with unsafe driving are influenced by drivers and their decision to engage in dangerous habits. In order to solve this problem, Departments of Transportation use roadside safety campaigns. To gain a comprehensive understanding of the effectiveness of these campaigns, this research study captured five different metrics of effectiveness to understand what messages are effective and how to target messages to different groups of people. Since reading and interpreting the messages produces cognitive activation among participants, a neuroimaging technology called functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) was used to measure neurocognitive activation as a proxy for response. The fNIRS system captures this cognitive activation by measuring change in oxygenated blood (oxy-Hb). An increase in oxy-Hb is a proxy for increased task engagement. The first journal paper provides an understanding of what types of messages are perceived as effective, are misunderstood, are memorable, are considered inappropriate, and cause the greatest increase in cognitive engagement. Overall, drivers perceive messages to be effective at changing behavior, but particular messages are perceived as more effective than others. Messages about distracted driving and driving without a seat belt, messages that are intended to produce a negative emotional response, and messages with statistics are the behaviors, emotions, and themes that are most likely to be perceived to change driver behavior. Messages about distracted driving and messages about statistics are most likely to be remembered by drivers. In general, drivers do not find messages used in safety campaigns to be inappropriate. Drivers elicit more cognitive attention to signs about distracted driving and signs with a humorous emotion. The second journal considers the effectiveness of these messages with different target demographics by further investigating the first journal's results by different dependent variables, including age, gender, and risky driving habits of the participants. In the second study, the results from the first study are further examined to determine if some campaigns are more effective among different demographics of drivers. The behavioral results indicated that females, drivers over 65, low-risk and high-risk drivers, and urban and rural drivers perceive the safety campaigns as more effective. The neurological data revealed that younger drivers had more activation in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, an area known for semantics and word processing, which might indicate more cognitive attention to these types of messages. This study provides a unique application of using neuroimaging techniques to understand driver response to safety messages. The recommendations for an effective safety campaign are to use messages about distracted driving, messages with an emotional stimulus, and messages about statistics. Messages about word play and rhyme are recommended for appealing to younger demographics.



fNIRS, functional near-infrared spectroscopy, changeable messages signs, dynamic messages signs, variable message signs, driver behavior, roadside safety campaigns, effectiveness of safety campaigns