Penn State Study Provides Optimum Lighting Levels

Illuminating signs, including electronic message centers (EMCs), at inappropriate lighting levels hurts everyone. If the LEDs that light the sign aren’t bright enough, then the sign won’t be legible at night, and the sign loses its nocturnal value. The energy used to light the sign is wasted.

Conversely, if the LEDs are lit too brightly, everyone also loses. The “sometimes more is less” axiom holds true, because when signs are lit too brightly, they become illegible. Plus the excessive brightness upsets people. Excessive energy use is coupled with ineffectiveness. Additionally, when LEDs are lit to intensities in excess of their intended use, their lifetime is exponentially shortened. And, once again, energy is wasted.

So, what is the “just right” illumination level?

The United States Sign Council commissioned The Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute at Pennsylvania State University to make this determination, specifically for LED illumination, in 2015. USSC has been working with Penn State (PSU) since 1996, and this collaboration has subsequently produced 18 research projects directly related to optimum usage of on-premise signage.

PSU surveyed EMC manufacturing companies and asked their opinions about optimum lighting levels, but there was no consensus. Nor did prior research on the subject produce a consensus. So PSU set up two EMCs on its track at the Larson Institute and 48 licensed drivers (an equal number of males and females). They read two words in 12-in.-tall letters from a distance of 360 ft. in eight sign-color combinations.

Full study here.

University of South Carolina Professor Asks Business Owners to Evaluate their Electronic, Changeable-message Signs

Hendrikus E.J.M.L. van Bulck is an Assistant Professor of Business Administration at the University of South Carolina Sumter. He teaches marketing, entrepreneurship, small-business management, financial management, accounting and strategic management. He is also a partner in Van Bulk Partners, CPAs, LLC, where he is responsible for corporate planning and business valuations.

Van Bulck surveyed the 36 Sumter businesses that had programmable, electronic, variable-message signs (EMCs) for their businesses.  The businesses included 20 retail stores, five gas stations, six service-oriented businesses, five fast-food restaurants, five pharmacies and three banks. Here are some of their observations:

  • More than 85% of the respondents said the EMCs “helped bring in more customers”, and 25% “strongly agreed.”
  • 83% said the sign “measurably increased sales.” 17% “somewhat disagreed,” but no one “strongly disagreed.”
  • 89% agreed with the statement, “The LED sign makes people more aware of the location of the store.”
  • Only 8% said “Customers found such signs unattractive.”
  • 92% said the signs “were easy to update.”
  • 89% would “recommend the sign to other businesses.”

Study: The Value of Signs

Formal Report: Details

Do Electronic Message Centers Cause Traffic Accidents?

Subjective statements often suggest that electronic message centers (EMCs) cause traffic accidents because they are distracting. Yet, is there any empirical evidence that documents this theory?

No.

In 1980, the Federal Highway Administration published its “Safety and Environmental Design Considerations in the Use of Commercial Electronic Variable-Message Signs” study, which was hugely inconclusive. It conducted the study to support its theory that electronic signage (with changeable messages) caused traffic accidents, but couldn’t generate supporting data.

In March 2011, the FHWA released a study entitled “Driver Visual Behavior in the Presence of Commercial Electronic Variable Message Signs (CEVMS)”, which is another name for EMCs. Two tests were each conducted in Reading, PA and Richmond, VA. It also showed no evidence that electronic billboards cause accidents, as indicated by the following:

-The presence of digital billboards did not appear to be related to a decrease in looking toward the road ahead.

-According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), safety concerns arise when a driver’s eyes are diverted from the roadway by glances that continue for more than 2.0 seconds.

-The longest fixation to a digital billboard was 1.34 seconds, and to a standard billboard, it was 1.28 seconds, well below the accepted standard.

-When comparing the gaze at a CEVMS versus a standard billboard, the drivers in this study were generally more likely to gaze at a CEVMS than at standard billboards.

– The FHWA study adds to the knowledge base but does not “present definitive answers” to the questions investigated.

The study states: “In general, drivers devoted more glances at CEVMS than at standard billboards; however, there were no significant decreases in the proportion of time spent looking at the road ahead (i.e., eyes on the road) that could be directly attributed the CEVMS at the measured luminance and contrast levels.”

Glances away from the forward roadway of greater than 2 seconds or 1.6 seconds’ duration have been proposed as indicators of increased risk of crashes. In the current experiments, there were no long glances at billboards meeting or exceeding 1.6 seconds. The longest glance at a target billboard was less than 1.3 seconds in both studies. Glances with a duration of 1 second or greater were rare: there were 5 in Reading (0.47% of the glances to CEVMS) and 7 in Richmond (0.78% of the glances to CEVMS). All of the glances greater than 1 seconds were to CEVMS.

The full study can be viewed at https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/real_estate/oac/visual_behavior_report/review/cevms2.pdf

A shorter article about its highlights can be found at http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/STMG/sott_201403/index.php#/44

Additionally, Texas A&M specifically studied EMCs and “before” and “after” traffic-accident data in 2012. For that full story, go to https://fasi.squarespace.com/config#/pages/570bae5cd210b89ef1a6a42a|/universitiesblog

Similarly, in 2010, Tantala Associates, a consulting/engineering firm, conducted its fourth study about the relationship between traffic accidents and electronic signage on billboards. Most recently, Tantala examined eight years of law-enforcement records that documented 35,000 traffic accidents on state and local roads around Reading, PA, to determine accident rates near 26 digital billboards. For the first time, the Empirical Bayes Method predictive tool was used to determine if accidents near digital billboards are inconsistent with what is statistically predicted. The answer: Digital billboards are “safety neutral.”

In 2008, Tantala investigated more than 60,000 traffic accidents in Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) Ohio for an eight-year period, before and after EMC billboards were installed. Accidents in the county, as a whole, had decreased in the last four years. Accidents where digital billboards were visible also decreased.

In Rochester, NY, Tantala reviewed police records documenting 18,000 traffic accidents that occurred within a mile of digital billboards over a five-year period, and in Albuquerque, it reviewed police records documenting traffic accidents that occurred within a mile of 17 digital billboards over a seven-year period. The studies showed no statistical correlation between digital billboards and accidents.

The January 7, 2014 edition of The Hill, a Washington, DC newspaper, included the following:

“Drivers are not distracted by digital billboards alongside roads, according to a study conducted by the Dept. of Transportation. The study, which was released by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), found that drivers are not any more likely to be distracted by digital billboards than stationary signs.

‘On average, the drivers in this study devoted between 73% and 85% of their visual attention to the road ahead for both (CEVMS) and standard billboards,” the study said. “The range is consistent with earlier field-research studies. In the present study, the presence of CEVMS did not appear to be related to a decrease in looking toward the road ahead’.”