Digital Billboards in Jeopardy

The one universal truth we know about the future — from sci-fi movies as diverse as “Blade Runner” to “Back to the Future Part II” — is America will get many, many more electronic billboards. This future may be in jeopardy, though, as many cities ban or place moratoriums on what they think is an external driving distraction.

Digital billboards change images every four to 10 seconds, which opponents say takes drivers’ attention away from the road for “unsafe periods of time,” according to a review by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

Evidence of this is not quite conclusive, though. A number of studies financed by the billboard industry say the changing advertisements are not a distraction and comply with federal guidelines. In 2007, the Federal Highway Administration relaxed its rules on digital billboards, finding that they complied with the 1965 Highway Beautification Act that bans “flashing” or “moving” lights.

Since 2007, the number of digital billboards has doubled to roughly 1,800 and 39 states currently allow them, although some individual cities sometimes revolt. Denver is the latest to do so, moving to an outright ban.

The Highway Administration hopes to get definitive answers about the distraction question by conducting a study using eye-tracking devices inside volunteers’ vehicles to see if those drivers look at the billboards, and if so, for how long. The study will be completed by the summer.

More Cities Ban Digital Billboards (USA Today)

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