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Variable messaging signs (VMS) is a method of alerting drivers of changing driving conditions. They can also be used to communicate non-traffic related messages. For example, they are currently used in New South Wales for Covid public service announcements. Transport professionals mostly use VMS for road safety interventions.

An experiment was done to see how language can affect driver behaviour. By using Compass custom services, comparisons were made between different types of signs. The example below compares the effectiveness of “crash ahead” and “breakdown ahead” on a specific motorway. In this analysis, data were obtained for an hour before, during, and after sign activation.

Focusing on speed, the results for “breakdown ahead” found there was not much difference before, during, and after sign activation. With the plot graph, most of the dots are seen to stay close to the 100 km/h speed range.

Breakdown ahead graphs and statistics.

Breakdown ahead graphs and statistics.

With “crash ahead”, the average speed lowers during the time of the sign’s activation dramatically - almost 20 km/h lower than before the sign was activated. In the plot graph, the points of data aren’t as concentrated in one area compared to “breakdown ahead” and has more cars travelling slower than 50 km/h.

Crash ahead graphs and statistics.

Crash ahead graphs and statistics.

Results showed that “crash ahead” was more effective in changing driver behaviour. The experiment shows that particular words and language can positively change driver behaviour with their language. Analysis and studies of what words affect drivers most could help shape the language used on signs to further enhance road safety.

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