Clearly Effective

Science drives innovation in digital messaging

The past several decades brought new and exciting intelligent transportation systems to mitigate traffic and increase safety. While these systems were installed with an eye on the future, they still had limitations. No doubt, this technology has made a profound impact on the way our nation manages vehicle traffic. However, many roadways still feature monochromatic, text-only messaging, which lags behind the growth of transportation infrastructure.

Studies show that graphics “effectively illustrate unusual operational scenarios”1 on roadways better than using text only. The response to this evidence includes dynamic message sign technology that uses more legible pixel spacing and the capability to show full-color graphics and text together.

Visual Preference

With all that being said, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that motorists prefer images to text only in the content of a message. As you look around at everything from billboards to newspapers, it’s obvious that ours is a visual culture. Photos and graphics are almost always part of the message.

The science behind this is clear. For example, researchers at the University of Rhode Island found that when the text in a DMS message is aided by a graphic, motorists interpret and react to it 35 percent more quickly. In other words, motorists prefer graphics in their visual communications, and those graphics are more effective in producing a reaction.2

The Minnesota DOT conducted a survey that determined, “Seeing a warning message on DMS is the preferred method for disseminating information about adverse road conditions among respondents who reported viewing blizzard warning messages on DMS.”3

A report from the Virginia Transportation Research Council (VTRC) found that non-typical incident-related messages should appear visually different from typical traffic-related information.4 This allows the DMS to capture motorists’ attention and to show that the information is of a different category than typical messages.

Using a full-color DMS can provide multiple methods for differentiating types of messages and allows for visually categorizing and prioritizing information. These reports show that this method is clearly necessary where different types of information are shown on the same display.

Establishing targets

In the transportation industry, scientific research doesn’t just push for innovations in technology, but it also encourages new methods that are enabled by that technology.

Programs such as the SMART Initiative at the University of Michigan are focused on innovation at the operational level. In a 2010 white paper, the University partnered with Transportation for America to focus on current goals such as increased efficiency and better presentation of information to travelers.5

According to this white paper, the U.S. has reached a point where digital and physical infrastructures can work together for progressive solutions in our nation’s transportation services. Though the paper was written before the current infrastructure plan was in place, it does paint a bright picture, saying, “Yet we have only just begun to unleash these technological capabilities in the U.S. economy. A great deal more is possible.”

At Daktronics, we agree.

A dynamic effect

 The U.S. DOT’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) echoed this message in 2011, publishing 193 evaluation summaries of freeway management projects from 1997-2010.6

“RITA found that the simple dissemination of information was the number one objective when agencies installed their ITS systems.”

Among other goals such as ramp control, special event traffic management and law enforcement, RITA found that the simple dissemination of information was the number one objective when agencies installed their ITS systems.

In the projects studied during that 14-year period, RITA said that safety, mobility and customer satisfaction were all improved, and the number of DMS deployed on the studied freeways more than doubled.

Dissemination Nation

Agencies have more options than ever to communicate the information that they collect with sensors and CCTV. Full-color, hi-res DMS simplify disseminating these messages quickly.

Today, many of the decisions happening in the traffic management center are helping people make decisions on the road. Any ITS specialist knows that a more capable DMS leads to more effective traffic management.

For example, anyone with a smart phone understands the value of technology when it comes to sending out messaging and collecting data. Applications such as Maps by Apple or Google Maps can visually organize data collected in real time to provide color-coded overlays so people can make informed decisions for the route they take to work.

While this type of information is useful, it can lead to dangerous situations when people look at their phones when they are behind the wheel.

Fortunately, this same type of color coding and mapping is possible with today’s DMS technology. Agencies can integrate the data into their messaging for a completely safe way for drivers to benefit from the information available to them.

Industry standards such as NTCIP, NEMA and MUTCD continue to update specifications to support the installation of high-resolution, full-color DMS. In turn, ITS technology is sharper, more efficient and more intelligent than ever.

The visual convergence of recognizable static signs and LED display technology provides dramatic progress in traffic management.

Find out more about how your agency can benefit from the latest technology

  1. Ullman, Brooke R.; Trout, Nada D., and Dudek, Conrad L. Use of Graphics and Symbols on Dynamic Message Signs: Technical Report.Texas Transportation Institute, the Texas A&M University System. Published May 2009.
  2. Wang, Jyh-Hone; Hesar, Siamak G.; Collyer, Charles E. Adding Graphics to Dynamic Message Sign Messages, University of Rhode Island. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board. First Published January 2007.
  3. Minnesota Department of Transportation Office of Research & Innovation. Road Weather and Creative Safety Messaging on Dynamic Message Signs. Prepared by CTC & Associates LLC. Published October 2019. Road Weather and Creative Safety Messaging on Dynamic Message Signs (
  4. Schroeder, Jeremy L.; Demetsky, Michael J.; Evaluation of Driver Reactions for Effective Use of Dynamic Message Signs in Richmond, Virginia. Virginia Transportation Research Council Research Report. Published February 2010. Evaluation of Driver Reactions for Effective Use of Dynamic Message Signs in Richmond, Virginia (
  5. Smart Mobility for a 21st Century America: Strategies for Maximizing Technology to Minimize Congestion, Reduce Emissions and Increase Efficiency. Transportation of America, ITS America, the Association for Commuter Transpor-tation and the University of Michigan’s SMART Initiative. October 2010. ITS-White-Paper-100710-FINAL.pdf (
  6. U.S. Department of Transportation, Research and Innovative Technology Administration, September 2011.

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