Are digital stop signs the wave of the future?

It will take some time, but they might be on the way.

WASHINGTON — Imagine a stop sign showing up inside your car and not on the road. That’s what driving in the future might look like, thanks to technology that’s in the early stages of testing.

Alexandria Noble, a Virginia Tech master’s student who is heading up research funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, envisions metal signs replaced by “digital signs that are inside your vehicle … and would only appear when you need to stop at an intersection.”

The goal is to take smart-car technology to new heights by moving traffic signs from the road and putting them into your car. Then the signs would show up digitally on a screen, but only when you need to be alerted.

Noble says the stop-sign example is pretty far into the future, but other signs could pop into your car a whole a lot sooner.

If you have a GPS, you may already see one of these street signs inside your car. Some GPS units show you the speed limit for the road on which you’re driving, with a symbol that looks like the real thing.

Noble says she’s testing “connected vehicles technology,” which would allow cars to talk to each other and with the infrastructure along the roadway, over a dedicated wireless network.

She says she wants to increase safety by helping prevent crashes and ease congestion; many crashes, she says, are caused by drivers disregarding metal stop signs.

Noble did 17 weeks of testing on a closed track to see how people would react to, and comply with, signs inside a vehicle. She says the project is just beginning.

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