Billboard Sized Bad Design

Recently I saw that a new digital billboard had been installed on my route home. I don’t like these billboards, though I am sure the advertisers love them. These billboards, with their bright and changing images, are attention grabbers. You almost can’t help glancing at them. Therein lies my dislike. If you’ve read my article on the NTSB cell phone ban, you already know my opinion on distracted driving. It’s dangerous — don’t do it. And yet that is exactly what these billboards are designed to do — distract the driver. Most of the digital billboards I have seen are on the sides of roads that get a lot of traffic. This is great for the advertisers because there are more eyes on the signs, but bad for drivers because there are eyes on the signs that should be on the road.

I find the one on my way home to be particularly worrisome due to the layout of the road. It crosses a bridge and in the evening there are two outbound lanes, both of which end at a traffic light on the far side of the bridge. The left lane must turn left and the right lane must turn right. Drivers cannot go straight. The billboard is positioned on a hill behind and above the traffic light. So as drivers crest the bridge, cars in front of them are braking to turn on green or to stop on red. During rush hour, traffic is congested and unpredictable, leading to a backup halfway across the bridge. And yet as drivers should be paying careful attention to the cars that are slowing or stopping in front of them, a great big dynamic billboard is screaming for their attention.

The image on the left was taken (by my passenger) at about 3:00 in the afternoon. There’s not much traffic at that time, but you can see how this billboard draws your attention away from the cars and the traffic light. Now imagine ten times as many cars stopping or slowing in front of you.

The image on the right is a map of the area — the red rectangle represents the billboard’s location. Add in ongoing construction — note the orange detour signs in the picture — and fog that can occur in the area since it’s over a river, and it’s a multiple-car accident waiting to happen.

A badly placed dynamic billboard distracting drivers at a busy cross-section

So here’s a question for any legal experts who might be reading this blog — and something that the advertisers and billboard owners may want to consider: If a driver rear-ends another car and claims that this billboard distracted them, can the advertisers and owner be held liable?

Featured image by RussellStreet |Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)