Iowa’s “Roadside Chats” May Do More Harm Than Good
You've no doubt seen plenty of signs like the one pictured above across your travels along Iowa highways. Sometimes they're funny and clever, other times more serious, but they always have the same goal, which is to send a message to drivers to keep each other safe by not engaging in distracted, dangerous activities.
"Zero Fatalities: A Goal We Can All Live with".
Many of these signs depict exactly how far away we are from that goal, but according to Iowa's News Now, a new study is out saying that this campaign signage from the Iowa Department of Transportation might be doing more harm than good. They can take your eyes off the road, even for just a split second, the exact opposite of their intent.
The message boards mean well in that they intend to "keep drivers aware and practice safe highway driving." However, an assistant professor Joshua Madison of the University of Minnesota, who was part of the study, had some startling insight:
We found, again, the statistical increase in crashes happens specifically in those weeks where the fatality messages [are] displayed
In fairness, this study looked at Texas' data, and the Iowa DOT, which has had its "Roadside Chat" program with the electronic billboards running since 2013, had something to say about the study, which they called "a single study that focuses on one location". Andrea Henry of the Iowa DOT defended the program:
In the 8 1/2 years of doing these messages, we have never heard of our messages being a contributing factor in a crash. In addition, we’ve done spot checks on speed data for locations around the message boards on the days messages are shown and have not seen any noticeable decrease in speeds. To our knowledge, we do not know of another study that has been able to replicate the findings in another location
There are 78 of these electronic message boards across Iowa, and while the goal is zero traffic fatalities, a more general goal is "under 300" every year. With already 88 traffic deaths in Iowa recorded as of the time of this writing we can judge for ourselves whether the signage campaign is working or not.