Funding Organisation: Highways Agency
Variable Message Signs (VMS) are now a common sight on motorways in the U.K. Their flexibility can be utilised to supply drivers with up-to-date information regarding road and travel conditions. A common use of VMS by the U.K. Government’s Highways Agency (HA) is to display a Tactical Incident Message (TIM), a specific message warning of a particular impending hazard. HA also use VMS to give more general advice on good driving habits by utilising Safety Campaign Messages. VMS active with a Safety Campaign Message may include messages such as “Watch Your Speed” (WYS) or “Keep Your Distance” (KYD).
Eighty drivers took part in the driving simulator study, which primarily investigated the effectiveness of two specific Safety Campaign Messages and how their use affected driver behaviour towards a more critical Tactical Incident Message (TIM). Safety Messages did have the potential to marginally improve driver behaviour, but these limited effects were associated with the initial presentations of the messages, whilst they still retained some novelty value to drivers. However, the presentation of the Safety Campaign messages did appear to have a positive impact on driver “alertness” – the eye-tracking data showed that drivers continued to fixate on VMS carrying repeated safety messages, even though their presentation did not particularly influence their driving performance. This level of alertness allowed drivers who had witnessed a smattering of active VMS earlier in their journey to respond more quickly to a Tactical Incident Message (TIM) than those who had not witnessed any VMS active with Safety Campaign Messages.