The billboard industry’s PR apparatus generates a number of questionable claims on behalf of digital billboards. They support local businesses, they advance non-profit causes, they provide critical emergency information, they help catch dangerous criminals and find missing children. But the most dubious may be that digital billboards are no more distracting than static signs and therefore pose no hazard to motorists on freeways and busy commercial streets.
What evidence supports this claim? Billboard advocates cite studies of accident data purporting to show that car crashes are no more likely in the proximity of digital billboards than anywhere else, but the outdoor advertising industry sponsored and paid for those studies so it’s best to approach them with an abundance of skepticism. Independent experts have also pointed out serious flaws in the way those studies were conducted.
The billboard industry also likes to point to a federal highway administration study showing that drivers spend no more time gazing at digital billboards than conventional ones. Lost in the PR noise is the fact than an expert peer reviewer found the study to be so flawed that its data is essentially worthless.
Fortunately, there is other evidence calling into serious question the wisdom of putting billboards with bright, rapidly changing messages in the sight lines of motorists on heavily traveled freeways, highways, and streets. In fact, Scenic America just released a compendium of independent studies that highlights new evidence showing that digital billboards capture the attention of drivers in a way that raises serious questions about proposals, including current ones in L.A., to allow new digital billboards.
We hope that City Council members, city planners and others involved in decisions about these billboards look very carefully at these studies. Digital billboards are undeniably lucrative for the billboard companies, so much so that some are dangling the carrot of shared revenue in front of city officials faced with chronic budget deficits.
But is that revenue worth possible injury and even death because a driver is distracted by a brightly-lighted ad for the latest movie or fast food offering or electronic gadget?
Click links below to read Scenic America’s announcement and the full text of the compendium of safety studies.