Driver behavior not altered by roadside memorials, study finds

Traffic Safety Pulse News

A University of Otago study has found roadside memorials have very little impact on driver behavior or perception of road safety, although they may be controversial.

There is almost no scientific research examining whether roadside memorials are distracting or whether they impact safety-related behaviors.

In order to address the gap, lead author Dr. Vanessa Beanland, of the Department of Psychology, and Rachael Wynne, of the University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia, recruited 40 drivers to determine if roadside memorials divert drivers' attention away from the road, and whether they affect their judgments of how safe a road is and what speed they should drive at.

The drivers watched videos of road scenes, with and without memorials, and had their eye movements to the side of the road, and speed reduction and perceived risk ratings monitored.

The results, published in the journal Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, showed memorials captured attention visually, but the fixations were relatively brief (about 400 milliseconds) and such short glances away from the road are common and not considered unsafe.

The study also found roadside memorials actually had no impact on participants' perceived safety of a road or on their chosen speed, despite a common belief that they provide a useful safety message to take care at that specific point.

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