Driven to Distraction? Digital Billboards Draw Controversy.

iStock_000019362170XSmall.jpgAs an Atlanta motor vehicle accident lawyer, I often check the Georgia Governors Office of Highway Safety website for important and interesting information. For example, today I read a fascinating article on a study regarding billboard highway distractions. Most often we think of driving distractions as those inside our vehicles, such as the illegal use of PDA’s to text while driving, especially dangerous for teen drivers. But there are other distractions outside our vehicles that can be dangerous too.

Most likely you have seen the large digital flashing billboards along America’s highways. These are very bright and draw our attention as drivers and passengers. A Swedish study has now confirmed that these billboards take our attention away from the road for about two seconds. This is actually a serious risk and could lead to accident and injury.

Some say the results of the study only confirm ” ‘common sense when it comes to digital billboards,’ ” as noted by the president of Scenic America. Their concern is that the study confirms that these billboards are actually intended to attract our attention and keep it. The study will be presented later this month at a national transportation conference in Washington D.C..

The Federal Highway Administration has permitted the use of these signs since 2007. Their initial conclusion was that there was no significant risk to drivers and highway safety. They do regulate the distance between these signs and the time an image remains on the screen. Now that these billboards have been in use for a period of years, the risk assessment could be altered. The courts are also getting involved in the question as recently a three-judge panel ordered the removal of 100 digital billboards in the Los Angeles area. Other cities, such as Denver have banned these signs.

The Governors Highway Safety Association is not ready to reach a conclusion on the billboards. They say they will review the data as it becomes available since in their view the digital messaging that provides Amber Alerts, for example are very important to public safety. Given that the use of these billboards has greatly increased in the past five years, it is likely the controversy over them will continue both locally and nationally.

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