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Cities Attempt to Curb Distracted Driving by Banning Digital Billboards

The McClellan Law Firm

Do digital billboards distract drivers and cause car accidents? Cities everywhere are considering this question and implementing rules to govern the controversial “tv on a stick,” as it is called by some critics. Many cities have imposed moratoriums on digital billboards, including Los Angeles. Studies show conflicting results concerning the actual distraction they pose to the driver, but many believe the effects are more negative than neutral. Distracted driving causes thousands of accidents every year, which is why cities are hoping to curb any potential source of distraction however they can.

Updated in January 2016

The city of Los Angeles permits digital billboards to be displayed, but only within certain “sign districts.” In 2014, Lamar Advertising sued the city for the right to erect 45 digital billboards and a judge ruled in the company’s favor, citing the initial 2002 ban as going against California’s state constitution. Legal movements are ongoing to prevent digital billboards in the city and take down existing ones.

Advertiser Reactions to Digital Billboard Bans

For companies like Lamar Advertising, this trend isn’t great news. Advertisers maintain that digital billboards operate well within the law and that such billboards do not distract drivers to a point that warrants a ban. Even though laws don’t completely restrict the billboards, the new districts could make effective advertising much more difficult. Digital billboards are tremendously advantageous for advertisers.

Here are a few reasons advertisers want to replace old billboards with their newer counterparts:

  • Higher Visibility
  • Easily Changed and Updated
  • Customized Display Times (during rush hour for example)
  • More Advertising Space

Complaints against the digital billboards range from standard complaints of distraction to complaints about their lack of energy-efficiency and overwhelming brightness in neighborhoods. Many cities would rather be safe than sorry and simply ban digital billboards from their premises.

Digital Billboard Test Results

Thus far, tests haven't come down definitively on either side. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that digital billboards were not distracting. Meanwhile, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials claim that they distract drivers and pull attention away from the road for an extended period of time.A test conducted in Sweden also showed that the billboards were not overly distracting, but had digital billboards removed anyway after the test. The conflict of interest between advertisers and cities make a conclusion difficult to come by.

Are digital billboards being unfairly grouped with cellphones and other distracting electronics? The answer is not clear. More tests are being conducted but, for now, most cities seem to be content with taking a safer-than-sorry approach to the issue.