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April 17, 2009

Billboards, Distractions, and Highway Safety

(#2 in a series of 5 including Lamar, Billboards, Advertising and Supply & Demand, Advertising and Propaganda, and Advertising and the Information Age.)

Here's how I look at billboards: they are devices that intend to distract you while driving on the highway. They do this for money. 37,000 Americans die annually in car accidents. A system that permits and rewards the distraction of drivers is indefensible.

 Billboard companies sell a brief slice of your attention, which is not theirs to sell, by using their skill and art to distract you, to catch your eye and stay in your mind. If that puts your family at risk on the highway, well, we still have freedom of speech in this country, tough noogies.

Billboards are designed so that your eye wants to read them. That's intrusive and obnoxious. It would probably be considered brain washing (if not torture) to strap somebody into a seat and make them watch a screen of briefly projected messages, and yet this is the experience of somebody traveling in the front seat of a car on our highways.

Madness Indeed!You may not be allowed to have a TV screen in the front seat of your car, but it's all right if somebody wants to show you a bright, colorful, digital billboard as you're driving. So we kill a few pedestrians or bicyclists every year while drivers are looking at the pretty pictures - we've got to keep the economy moving forward.

Not to mention that the messages may be loathsome or offensive to you.


I'm sorry to repeat myself: they distract drivers for money. Everyone of those signs has a permit from a local politician. The only explanation of how this persists, and even thrives, is corruption.


Ken Moir said...

You make a strong case here (and will be happy to know that billboards have been prohibited in Hawaii since the `30s). Unfortunately, the research and evidence don't support it:

"According to a study by the Center for Crash Causation and Human Factors at Virginia Tech's Transportation Institute, a leading research institute on transportation and driving performance, a driver's performance, speed maintenance, and lane keeping were not measurably impaired in any way along highways and other roads with billboards.

In addition, eyeglance results showed that there were no differences in the overall glance patterns between digital billboards, conventional billboards, comparison events, and baseline events during the daytime. And the nighttime results indicate that digital billboards and comparison events may be associated with more active glance patterns, as well as with more frequent and longer glances towards the digital billboards and comparison events."

Here's a link to the full text of this 2007 study:

Anonymous said...

That study was funded by the industry itself, and blasted by the experts in this field.

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