Billboard Bullies

In a world where we face significant legislature attempting to decrease distractions from within the car, drivers are being bombarded with outside distractions as well. Even though you are careful and keep inside distractions like cell phones to a minimum, you may still be driving distracted. Billboards are meant to catch your attention in order to provide the best advertisements, but if your attention is on the ad then you can not also be focused on the road.  The mind is being bullied into diverting attention from the road to the board through advertising gimmicks.

Not only do the boards physically distract drivers by disrupting the sight of the road, they also distract on an emotional level. Billboards are attempting to try to capture your emotions. By evoking an emotional response the ads can leave a lasting impact. Great for advertisers, bad for drivers. When a driver is emotionally charged, either negatively or positively, the resulting feelings lead to distractions. This is supported by a paper published by Michelle Chan and Anthony Singhai from the University of Alberta called Accident Analysis and Prevention.

In the beginning of Chan’s research he expected that drivers would react only to the billboards which were the best at advertisement and evoked the strongest emotional responses. However, he found that drivers were distracted by the billboards regardless of their content. The mere fact that there is something large to look at apart from the road is what distracts drivers.

In a way companies which sell advertising space on billboards are not just providing companies with a cheap advertisement per number of views, they are in effect selling a portion of your attention. Many legislators and concerned citizens have recently been asking should these distractingly dangerous ads be allowed?

Of particular concern are the billboards which employ eye catching colors, flashing lights, and television panels. Think about it, you are not allowed to keep a television screen in the front seat of your car because that would be distracting; but the billboards of today are like having a television screen constantly in front of you. Fleet.com advises owners that “human behavior studies have shown that drivers are hardwired to notice bright, changing lights in their peripheral vision and to anticipate additional motion”, making these ads more distracting.

A study involving digital billboards and driver safety was conducted by the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute and funded by the Swedish Transport Administration. It was found that drivers looked at digital billboards significantly longer than they did at other signs on the same stretch of road, with the digital signs often taking a driver’s eyes off the road for more than two seconds. This is the amount of time the the University of Ohio research team has deemed necessary for a crash to occur.

The National Traffic  Research board met in Washington on January 16th 2013. At this conference discussions were held regarding current billboard regulations and safety standards. The results of this conference have not yet been published to the public. There is difficulty when limiting the appearance of billboards for safety reasons, because of the fear that the limitations would inter fear with free speech. Conflicts also arise because there are government billboards on private lands and private billboards on government lands. This makes it more difficult to put uniform regulations in place.

Despite some legal difficulties some anti billboard cases have been successful. For example it is illegal to have a video board within 500 ft of an entrance to a poll station. In Massachusetts it is also illegal to have a tobacco ad within 1,000 ft of a school.

We encourage legislation such as this which aims to keep our roads and children safer. Here at Christensen & Hymas we are concerned with the safety of Utah drivers. If you or someone you know has been in an accident caused by distracting billboards call us. We specialize in automobile accidents, (801)506-0800.

Image courtesy of dgray531

Ken Christensen
Partner, Founder at Christensen & Hymas
Ken Christensen is the founding partner of Christensen & Hymas. He is an avid cyclist, loves baseball, and enjoys spending time with his family in the outdoors.

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