There are plenty of things inside of vehicles to distract motorists from the task at hand — driving. Smartphones, fiddling with the radio or other dashboard controls, food and drink, bickering children and even casual conversations with passengers all contribute to the problem of distracted driving.

However, many motorists don’t consider how external factors can also cause them to get distracted behind the wheel. Few probably realize that the ubiquitous roadside advertising is a major external distraction.

Researchers at the Department of Industrial Engineering at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, recently studied this phenomenon. They looked at the effects of roadside advertising on drivers’ performance on a simulator. They also questioned a small sample of the participating motorists, asking their opinions on the level of distraction from the signs.

Of the 160 drivers in the study, half indicated they were distracted at least once by billboard advertising. At least 22 percent of the volunteers’ performance indicated they were in dangerous situations because of distractions from this advertising.

The participants in the driving simulation had two identical paths to travel, but with a major difference. The first path was free of billboards, and the second had posted signs along the route.

The results of the driving simulator showed that two performance indicators worsened in the path dotted with billboards. These indicators were drifting out of designated lanes and crossing dangerous intersections recklessly.

While there were three additional performance indicators that decreased drivers’ efforts, these were not statistically significant. They were speeding, changing traffic lanes without using turn signals and tailgating.

Roadside billboards are American icons. From early 20th century Coca-Cola and Ivory soap advertising along pre-interstate roads to today’s modern ads, it’s likely that billboards are here to stay.

However, if the at-fault driver who caused your wreck was distracted by roadside advertising, that might be an important element to include in your claim for damages.