Highway signs indicating that more accidents are caused by fatal car crashes, according to a study

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New research shows that public safety campaigns meant to reduce car accidents actually have the opposite effect.

A joint study between the universities of Minnesota and Toronto found that highway signs that indicate the number of traffic deaths actually cause more car accidents.

Researchers focused on Texas, where state officials display those messages one week per month. The analysts compared crash data before and after the highway campaign, Jan. 2010- July 2012. They also compared numbers from August 2012 to December 2017.

The study found that fatality messages led to an increase in crashes within six miles of the crash scene by 4.5%. According to the study, fatality messages are responsible for an additional 2,600 deaths and $377 million in annual costs.

University of Toronto assistant professor Jonathan Hall and University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management assistant professor Joshua Madsen published their findings in Science.

The scholars stated that traffic death signs distract drivers already overwhelmed by multiple sources information.

“Driving on a busy highway and having to navigate lane changes is more cognitively demanding than driving down a straight stretch of empty highway,”Madsen. “People have limited attention. When a driver’s cognitive load is already maxed out, adding on an attention-grabbing, sobering reminder of highway deaths can become a dangerous distraction.”

According to the authors, states should find other ways to alert people about car crashes. This is one of America’s most deadly causes of death.

“Distracted driving is dangerous driving,” Madsen said. “Perhaps these campaigns can be reimagined to reach drivers in a safer way, such as when they are stopped at an intersection, so that their attention while driving remains focused on the roads.”

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