Looking for a way to get the driver's attention? Use more action-oriented traffic signs.

Make milliseconds count! When a vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed must come to a stop, even a few feet can mean the difference between life and death.

Researchers at the University of Michigan and Brigham Young University have found a way to cushion near-misses a bit.

People respond much better to warning signs that represent greater activity, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

"A sign that evokes more perceived motion increases the observer's perception of risk, which in turn leads to earlier attention and earlier stopping," said Ryan Elder, a professor at BYU Marriott School of Management, one of the study's co-authors. "If you want to attract attention, you need signs that are more dynamic."

The study was conducted by Elder and lead authors Luca Cian and Aradhna Krishna from the University of Michigan to see how static images that suggest movement can influence actions. The trio discovered that signals that conveyed a higher understanding of motion contributed to faster viewer behavior using driving tests, heat maps with click data, surveys, reaction time exercises and eye tracking.

The researchers found that participants in a driving simulation sample responded 50 milliseconds faster to higher dynamic warning signals. Those 50 milliseconds equate to an extra 4.4 feet of time for a vehicle traveling at 60 miles per hour, which can make a difference in tight situations.

In a second study, the team used eye-tracking technologies to find out how long it takes a person's eyes to recognize a road sign. The eye-tracking results showed that signs with more perceived activity grab (and hold) attention much sooner than static signs.

"Things that look like they are moving are moved in our minds," Elder said. "Our minds want to continue the motion that's contained in an image- and that has important consequences."

Elder and his colleagues expect the report to have an impact on legislation, leading to improvements that will hopefully minimize accident-related crashes and deaths. SERNIS is part of the transition, with a variety of dynamic LED signs. You can learn more here.

Journal Reference:

Luca Cian, Aradhna Krishna, Ryan S. Elder. A Sign of Things to Come: Behavioral Change through Dynamic Iconography. Journal of Consumer Research, 2015; 000 DOI: 10.1086/680673