Joshua Madsen headshot and electronic billboard that says, "1669 deaths this year on Texas Rads."

Carlson School Research in the Media: Crash Deaths

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Displaying the crash death toll on highway message boards is a common awareness campaign, but Carlson School research shows this tactic actually leads to more crashes.


Joshua madsen 2022
Joshua Madsen

A study in Science co-authored by Assistant Professor Joshua Madsen focused on Texas, where officials displayed these messages one week each month. After examining the crash data, the researchers found:

  • There were more crashes during the week with fatality messaging compared to weeks without.
  • Displaying a fatality message increased the number of crashes over the 10 km (6.21 mi) following the message boards by 4.5%. This increase is comparable to raising the speed limit 3-5 mph or reducing highway troopers by 6-14%, according to previous research.
  • Their findings suggest fatality messages cause an additional 2,600 crashes and 16 deaths per year in Texas, costing $377 million each year.

“Driving on a busy highway and having to navigate lane changes is more cognitively demanding than driving down a straight stretch of empty highway,” said 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.”

The findings led to media coverage in major news outlets including The Wall Street Journal, U.S. News & World Report, The Hill, The Economist, CBS Radio affiliates, and more.


Read more about the highway death toll message study.

Winter 2023 Discovery magazine cover

This article appeared in the Winter 2023 Discovery magazine

This issue highlights the Carlson School faculty's world-class research efforts that are elevating business research to new heights.

Winter 2023 table of contents