AAA Research: Digital Vehicle-Mounted Signs Prompt Drivers to Slow Down & Move Over During Roadside Emergencies

The American Automobile Association (AAA) is the pioneering advocate of Move Over Laws in the United States. The law requires motorists to slow down or change lanes when first responders like tow trucks, fire and rescue, and the police are on the roadside. Moreover, the law requires drivers to change lanes when approaching a stalled vehicle in some states. However, AAA found compliance and motorist awareness to roadside workers and emergency responders were inconsistent throughout all 50 states. In addition, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that two workers get struck and killed monthly by erring drivers who don’t comply with Slow Down, Move Over laws.

“We examined this safety challenge because these crashes are avoidable if drivers slow down and move over to allow roadside workers the space to carry out their duties safely,” said David Yang, President and Executive Director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Vehicle-Mounted Variable Message Signs

AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety was immersed in several field studies on the nation’s busiest roadways to determine the best countermeasures for protecting roadside workers. The analyses include surveys from emergency responders, roadside maintenance employees, and tow workers on their experiences while on the job. As a result, AAA found that 15 percent of the workers surveyed had survived being hit by a passing vehicle. Furthermore, 60 percent of respondents had a near-miss with a moving car while on duty.

The foundation experimented with visible countermeasures like emergency flashing light patterns, flares, and cones to determine which catches the driver’s attention quickly and motivates them to slow down and shift lanes. However, AAA concluded that digital vehicle-mounted variable message signs (VMS) were the most effective. Digital VMS signs, mounted to the rear of a tow truck or other emergency vehicle, can flash messages for other motorists like “slow down” or “move over.”

AAA said over 95 percent of drivers would slow down and change lanes when VMS is active. And while cones, flares, and flashing lights effectively prompted motorists to change lanes, those countermeasures prevented people from slowing down. The studies also showed that passenger cars were more responsive to VMS than buses or trucks, but both vehicles were more likely to move over when VMS was active.

Protecting Roadside Heroes

AAA recommends all service vehicles use VMS, nighttime light patterns, cones, flares, or a combination of all countermeasures while on duty to protect roadside workers. “We must help motorists see and react appropriately whenever an emergency responder is on the side of the road,” Yang added.