Above the Law Report Sarah Richards – 2/18/13

Scenic Philadelphia Press Release

PHILADELPHIA, February 20, 2013    Above the Law and Under the Radar: The Philadelphia Billboard Industry’s Failure to Comply with Local, State, and Federal Laws identifies over 100 billboards located along Philadelphia’s federal aid highways in violation of the Highway Beautification Act (HBA).  This widespread failure to comply with the HBA is expected to trigger a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) audit and possible penalties which could cost the City millions of dollars in lost federal-aid highway funding unless the billboard structures and sign faces are brought into compliance.

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Digital billboards dangerously distracting to drivers says new study

A new study, conducted by researchers at the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute and funded by the Swedish Transport Administration, concludes that digital billboards attract and hold the gazes of drivers for far longer than a threshold that previous studies have shown to be dangerous.The Swedish government had given temporary authorization to erect digital billboards in 2009.  As a result of this and related studies, however, the government has ordered the removal of all digital billboards.

According to the research, drivers looked at digital billboards significantly longer than at other signs along the same route, in fact, often for more two seconds at a time. Study results were recently published in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention.

The study’s authors noted that it’s not surprising that digital billboards attract greater attention from drivers: the signs are brighter, visible from greater distances and display a constantly-changing series of advertisements. They concluded that digital billboards “have the potential ability to keep up the driver’s curiosity over an extended period of time.” Previous human behavior studies have shown that drivers are hardwired to notice bright, changing lights in their peripheral vision and to anticipate additional motion.

“This study validates what is common sense when it comes to digital billboards,” said Mary Tracy, president of Scenic America. “Bright, constantly-changing signs on the side of the road are meant to attract and keep the attention of drivers, and this study confirms that is exactly what they do.”

An earlier study by Virginia Tech in 2006 for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that anything that takes a driver’s eyes off the road for more than two seconds greatly increases the risk of a crash. The study also found that nearly 80% of all crashes involved driver inattention just prior to (within 3 seconds) of the crash.

The powerful pull of digital billboards is a topic that flickers across the news media in the U. S. now and then, but not long enough to create a wave of general protest or national regulation, at least not thus far.  In 2010, for example, the New York Times published a story called Driven to Distraction, in which the author noted that digital billboard critics refer to the medium as “television on a stick,” writing that: “These high-tech billboards marry the glow of Times Square with the immediacy of the Internet.”

Some cities have stepped in to ban digital billboards, but not many, and the billboard industry has been vocal in their defense.

The new Swedish study, as well as two other recently completed studies of digital billboards, will be presented during the Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board in Washington, DC, on January 16, 2013.

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Swedish Study Shows Digital Billboards Distract Drivers

 

A new study published in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention concludes that digital billboards attract and hold the gazes of drivers for far longer than a threshold that previous studies have shown to be dangerous.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute and funded by the Swedish Transport Administration, 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.

A well-regarded 2006 study by Virginia Tech for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that anything that takes a driver’s eyes off the road for more than two seconds greatly increases the risk of a crash.  The study also found that nearly 80 percent of all crashes involved driver inattention just prior to (within 3 seconds) of the crash.

The Swedish study’s authors reasoned that it’s not surprising that digital billboards attract greater attention from drivers: the signs are brighter, visible from greater distances, and display a constantly-changing series of advertisements.  They concluded that digital billboards “have the potential ability to keep up the driver’s curiosity over an extended period of time.”  Previous human behavior studies have shown that drivers are hardwired to notice bright, changing lights in their peripheral vision and to anticipate additional motion.

The Swedish government had given temporary authorization to erect digital billboards in 2009, but as a result of this and related studies the government ordered the removal of all digital billboards.  Meanwhile in the United States these signs continue to go up at a rapid pace despite a growing body of evidence suggesting they pose a threat to traffic safety.

Click here to access the study

“Beyond Aesthetics: How Billboards Affect Economic Prosperity”

December 13, 2011
“Beyond Aesthetics: How Billboards Affect Economic Prosperity”

By Sabrine Tribié

PlanPhilly

SCRUB, the Public Voice for Public Space recently released a ground breaking study entitled “Beyond Aesthetics: How Billboards Affect Economic Prosperity“. The paper was written by urban planner Jonathan Snyder with the support of a grant from the Samuel S. Fels Fund. Snyder received a Master of City Planning from the University of Pennsylvania in 2011 with a concentration in Community and Economic Development.

Snyder’s research focused on whether economic prosperity is best served by strict sign control laws. He combined US Census, local home price and zoning code data with geographic information system (GIS) and statistical analysis tools in order to address three key questions: What impact do billboards have on real estate prices in the City of Philadelphia? What impact do billboards have on home value within census tracts in the City of Philadelphia? What impact do billboard regulations have on median income, poverty rates and vacancy rates in different cities in the United States? No other known studies examine how billboards affect their surrounding area, or explore the relationship between billboard controls and the economic condition of U.S. cities.

Click here to read the report

 

Digital Signage Report

As digital signage continues to proliferate around the country, a new report examines the technical, environmental, economic and regulatory issues surrounding this emerging technology.

Although much attention has been paid to the driver safety impacts of digital signage, there has been relatively little research regarding the environmental and energy-consumption issues raised by this new technology.

This report, Illuminating the Issues, for the first time, provides citizens and regulators with a solid starting point for exploring those issues and sets the ground for further discussion.  The New York Times has even provided coverage of the report with the questions Do Digital Billboards Waste Energy?

The paper was authored by Gregory Young, LEED AP, an architectural designer and urban planner active in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  A recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, his research was supported by a generous grant from the Samuel F. Fels Fund, and performed in collaboration with Scenic Philadelphia.

Click here to read the report

Safety Impacts of the Emerging Digital Display Technology for Outdoor Advertising Signs

The objective of this study was to develop guidance for State Departments of Transportation and other highway operating agencies with respect to the safety implications of digital display technology being increasingly used for outdoor advertising signs.  This groundbreaking report found evidence that drivers look longer at digital signs than they do at static billboards, and that glances away from the road of two seconds or more greatly increase the risk of a crash or near-crash.

Click Here to read the report

Critical Review of Reports Issued by the Outdoor Advertising Association of America

July 2007 saw the release of two industry-sponsored studies which concluded that digital billboards are no more likely to cause traffic accidents than conventional billboards. The billboard industry has since cited the studies numerous times as evidence that the proliferation of digital billboards poses no safety threat to the motoring public.  Now, an objective, expert analysis of the studies has been prepared for the Maryland State Highway Administration by Jerry Wachtel, a highly regarded traffic safety expert. His report is extremely critical of the conclusions and methodology of both studies and effectively debunks them.

Click Here to read the Report

Baker Study

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) contracted with Michael Baker Jr., Inc. (Baker) to inventory and map off-premise outdoor advertising devices (OAD) within 660 feet of the nearest edge of right-of-way of Interstate and Federal Aid-Primary highways in the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The inventory was conducted in relation to compliance with the Federal Highway Beautification Act and Pennsylvania Outdoor Advertising Control Act. This project was broken down into three main components: OAD inventory, permit research and conformance analysis.

Click Here to access the study.