Those colorful billboards that morph from one image to another have drawn
the attention of government researchers here and overseas looking at whether
the bright, changing signs are too much of a driver distraction.
The study, published in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention, will be
presented to a national transportation conference in Washington, D.C.
Sweden’s Transport Administration recruited 41 drivers between the
ages of 35 and 55 and outfitted them with a “head-mounted eye tracker.”
The participants drove a Volvo V70 equipped with data-gathering gear.
“Our data show that the billboards, in fact, attract more glances
than the other signs. This comes as no surprise since there is something
new to look at every seventh second,” the study states.
The report stopped short of saying that the electronic displays affect
“As the drivers’ glances do not appear to be drawn to the
billboards invariably, it can be assumed that drivers have a choice, at
least to a certain extent, whether to look at the billboards or not. If
drivers consider it safe to do so, is it still dangerous?” it states.
The Federal Highway Administration allowed digital billboards for the
first time in 2007 after concluding they did not pose a significant danger
to drivers. But a follow-up report is pending and could be released this year.
“FHWA conducted research to look at the effects of electronic billboards
that allow images to change every few seconds,” said agency spokesman
Doug Hecox. “Like many research reports, it was peer-reviewed and
based on that, the agency determined it needed additional analysis, which
is currently taking place,” he said.
Motorists have varying opinions on the effect of the roadside digital
displays that can be found locally on Interstate 26 and Interstate 526.
“I think they are a hazard. Subconsciously, when you are driving,
your attention is on the billboard,” said local real estate agent
South Carolina is among 39 states nationwide that allow digital billboards,
which are also subject to city and county regulation. Charleston and Mount
Pleasant ban the electronic displays. North Charleston allows the conversion
of traditional billboards to digital, but it does not allow new billboards
unless an existing one is taken down.
“Honestly, I don’t even notice them. They’re just scenery.
I’m more worried about what’s in front of me,” said
Rebeccah Williams Connelly of Charleston.
Dorchester County permits electronic billboards. Berkeley County officials
could not be contacted on the issue. In certain zoning districts, Charleston
County allows LED message-board signs that are a maximum of 10 feet tall
with an electronic message board that is no more that 25 percent of the
“We don’t allow any new billboards and haven’t for several
years,” said Summerville Mayor Bill Collins.
Digital billboards are one facet of rising concern about distracted driving.
Mount Pleasant Town Council considered a ban on texting while driving
and may revisit the issue this year. Clemson enacted such a prohibition in 2010.
State Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, is among the sponsors of a
bill introduced this month to make it illegal to send or receive texts
or use any form of electronic reading device while a car is in motion.
Second-offense texting while driving would mean two points on a driver’s
license. A third or subsequent offense would be a four-point violation.
Hecox said permitting decisions for digital billboards on interstate highways
are made by states, cities or counties because the structures are located
outside the federal right of way.
State Department of Transportation rules require that a message on a digital
billboard remain fixed for at least six seconds with an interval of two
seconds or less between ads. Light intensity must remain constant throughout
the message display.
Figures on the number of digital billboards statewide were not available.
In Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties, collisions involving
distracted or inattentive driving have declined in the past three years,
but about the same number of deaths related to the problem have occurred
annually, according to figures provided by the S.C. Department of Public Safety.
In 2010, the tri-county total for collisions in which distracted driving
was a factor was 4,585. In 2012, the number was 2,427. In 2010 and 2011,
eight people died each year in accidents involving distracted driving
compared with seven fatalities in 2012.
Some see inattentive drivers as a serious hazard. John Scott of Summerville
said digital billboards are just one more thing to take a driver’s
eyes and focus off the road, in addition to cellphones, texting and tweeting.
“It’s ridiculous. These are distractions that we don’t
need on the highway,” he said.
This article is from
The Post and Courier