The debate over whether billboards are dangerous, as reported by news media in the numerous communities where the issue has been raised, seems to come down more to opinion than facts.

Critics are convinced the big, bright signs must be dangerous. The signs’ goal, after all, is to attract the driver’s attention. And the outdoor advertising industry maintains the signs aren’t dangerous and that they conform to current federal guidelines.

“The industry has conducted extensive research on safety,” Stephen Freitas, chief marketing officer for the Outdoor Advertising Association of America, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Both crash-test data and behavioral studies have shown the digital billboards are safety-neutral and don’t in any way cause accidents.”

The Federal Highway Administration in 2007 issued a memo confirming that it allows the signs, saying they do not violate a prohibition against moving signs as long as the messages remain stationary for a “reasonable time period,” saying eight seconds was recommended.

The memo stated that the administration does not prohibit states from adopting more restrictive requirements when permitting moving-message signs.

The administration has been conducting a study on the issue, which it said in early 2010 would be completed that summer, according to a March 2010 New York Times article on the emergence and controversy of digital billboards.

The study is using eye-tracking devices to determine for how long drivers look at digital billboards.

But the study has been delayed several times; highway administration officials say it is still under internal review.


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