California Considers Bill To Ban Digital Billboards

By Fred Kuhlman • januari 22nd, 2009

The California assembly is considering a bill that would place a three-year moratorium on the construction of new digital billboards, including the conversion of existing billboards; it would also halt the construction of digital billboards currently underway. Assembly Bill 109 was introduced last week by Assemblyman Mike Feuer, (D-Los Angeles), close on the heels of a court victory for opponents of digital billboards in the Los Angeles area.

Feuer explained the motivation behind the bill: “Many states and municipalities have raised concerns over the safety of electronic billboards. Common sense dictates that before we allow these displays to proliferate, we should know the results of pending safety analyses and evaluate how to respond.” The moratorium is intended to give legislators a chance to study the potential ill effects of digital billboards more thoroughly before allowing further rollout.

Two studies in particular are being completed this year — one by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and another by the Federal Highway Administration.

Two years ago, the billboard industry funded a study by Tantala Associates, released in January 2007, which found automobile accidents are unrelated to digital billboards. The study surveyed accident frequencies over three years and compared this data with the positions of seven digital billboards in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, where Cleveland is located. However, this study may not be comprehensive enough to satisfy California policymakers.

In any event, criticism of digital billboards is partly aesthetic: in December, the Los Angeles City Council approved a three-month moratorium on new billboard construction, not so much because of safety concerns, but rather because well-heeled Los Angelenos objected to visual clutter in their neighborhoods. City officials recommended the moratorium to allow the city to reformulate a 2002 law regulating out-of-home advertising in a way that would withstand challenges on First Amendment grounds.

Earlier this month the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals handed the opponents a victory with its decision to uphold the 2002 ban on new outdoor advertising. Specifically, the court found that the ban did not violate the First Amendment right to free speech, reversing the decision of lower courts. There is precedent for banning billboards: Pasadena and Santa Monica both have restrictions on out-of-home advertising, which have thus far withstood legal challenges on First Amendment grounds.

source: Mediapost


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