Fatal distractionFatal distraction

‘Eye-catching ads endanger drivers’

Study along Tel Aviv’s main highway finds accident rates rise when huge billboards are on display

A 2012 billboard on the Ayalon Highway featuring model Bar Refaeli. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
A 2012 billboard on the Ayalon Highway featuring model Bar Refaeli. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

That giant roadside billboard featuring Bar Refaeli may be easy on the eyes, but an Israeli road safety study showed that it is unsafe at any speed.

A multi-year study commissioned by Israel’s National Road Safety Authority has found that large billboards placed at the sides of roadways are responsible for an increase in the number of traffic accidents on those roads, the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Wednesday.

The study, which was conducted by Dr. Victoria Gitelman, Dr. David Zaidel, Dr. Etti Doveh and Ran Zilberstein of the Technion, looked at the effect of large billboards on the Ayalon Highway, a major roadway in Tel Aviv, over three different time periods.

The first was from 2007 to 2008, when the billboards were first put up. During the second, from 2008 to the summer of 2009, the billboards were removed or covered in accordance with the law at the time. During the third, from summer 2009 to 2012, when the period of data collection ended, the billboards were restored, but with some restrictions. The giant billboards often feature eye-catching fashion advertisements, starring scantily dressed Israeli models including Bar Refaeli.

The study probed more than 22,000 road accidents, most of which resulted only in vehicle damage. It proved that when there were no advertising signs beside the Ayalon Highway, the rate of accidents with casualties on the stretches of road that were studied decreased by between 30 and 40 percent — and went up by 40% to 50% when the advertising signs were restored.

“Advertising signs placed on the sides of roadways are designed to [distract] driver attention from driving tasks, and therefore may affect driver performance and cause accidents,” read an interim version of the study published in April 2010.

The conclusions of the current study continued, “The more attention the advertising sign attracts, the more profitable it may be to the advertiser. But the authorities, citizens and road safety experts fear that such signs could distract the driver from components in the driving environment and hurt driving performance, thus causing accidents indirectly.”

Shmuel Aboav, the CEO of the Or Yarok Association for Safer Driving, which fought to have the billboards removed, said that the current study proves what earlier studies throughout the world had found: Large billboards at the sides of highways distract drivers, causing accidents that can lead to injuries and even deaths.

“Unfortunately, financial considerations carry more weight than considerations of road safety and human life,” he said.

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