Do Motorists See Business Signs? Maybe. Maybe Not. A Study of the Probability that Motorists View On-Premise Signs

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Chris Auffrey
Henry Hildebrandt


This study sought to answer questions about the extent to which on-premise signs (OPS) along US roadways attract the attention of passing motorists, based on a sample of OPS and roadway contexts captured in photo images from along the 3,073 mile length of highway US 50. 3M's Visual Analysis Software (VAS) was used to predict the probability that the selected OPS would be viewed by passing motorists. Results show that for all signs (n=467), the average probability of being viewed was about 57%, with that rising to about 66% for a "primary signs" group (n=100). These results are consistent with early research of motorist detection of on-premise signs in real-world contexts. The findings suggest that a substantial proportion (approximately one-third) of the on-premise signs along roadways in the US are not being viewed by motorists as business intended, and both the businesses and their communities are foregoing the benefits that more effective signage would provide. This study also sought to determine whether the OPS of national and regional businesses are better able to attract the attention of passing motorists compared to the OPS of locally-based businesses. The results show the average probability of being viewed for the national and regional business OPS is significantly higher than for the local businesses, though both business types showed substantial variation in the probability of viewing. These results suggest an opportunity for the OPS of local businesses to be improved. Both findings here raise important implication for understanding how both local sign regulations and industry design and location standards factor into causing and resolving the problem. Finally, VAS was found to provide quick and inexpensive objective analysis of OPS in real-world contexts. Future research is needed to develop advanced protocols for the use of VAS in analyzing OPS in complex environmental contexts.

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