Forum: Studies prove digital signs’ safety

By Fred Kuhlman • maart 8th, 2010


Scenic Michigan never seems to let facts get in the way of its radical crusade to ban billboards. Here are facts about digital billboards.

Over the past few years, some Michigan billboard companies have converted a small number of conventional signs to modern, digital billboards. About 50 of Michigan’s roughly 12,000 billboards are now digital, which amounts to less than one per county.

Digital signs broadcast up-to-the-minute information to motorists, making them invaluable tools for the state’s most important job providers and industries. They have become popular advertising tools for tourism businesses, public universities, auto dealers, small local businesses, and many more. They are widely used by the Michigan Lottery Bureau to promote games that fund public schools.

In addition, the FBI, state police, local police departments, and Crime Stopper organizations across the state are using digital billboards to help find missing or abducted children through AMBER alerts and to help apprehend fugitives.

To date, more than 25 statewide AMBER Alerts have been posted on digital billboards in Michigan. Over the past few years, Michigan’s billboard companies have voluntarily posted 110 suspects on billboards for local nonprofit crime-fighting organizations, helping the programs apprehend about 75 percent of the suspects.

The State of Michigan also embraces digital sign technology, building a number of digital billboard-like structures along major freeways. These lighted signs that closely resemble billboards (a metal post with a rectangular sign affixed to the top) sit much closer to the road and display messages telling motorists to drive safely. Given the state’s use of digital signs to broadcast safe driving messages, Scenic Michigan’s claims that digital billboards pose a safety concern for motorists is as unfortunate as it is unfounded.

Scenic Michigan wants the state Legislature to pass House Bill 5580 to ban future digital billboards until yet another study is done examining the safety of the signs.

The Scenic Michigan Forum column shamefully failed to mention that four independent scientific studies have already found no correlation between digital billboards and driving safety. Two studies (2007 and 2009) by Tantala Associates found digital billboards have no statistical relationship with traffic accidents on interstates. In its 2009 study, Tantala examined accident data for local roads in Rochester, Minn., concluding digital billboards are not related to accidents.

Tantala’s findings affirmed 2007 research by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI). The VTTI human factors study used cameras to measure driver distraction — eye glance patterns, speed maintenance and lane keeping — and concluded digital billboards are “safety-neutral.”

For reasons rational people find hard to comprehend, Scenic Michigan — unlike the vast majority of Michigan residents — wants to ban billboards. HB 5580 is a law in search of a problem that only exists for Scenic Michigan. It will also kill Michigan jobs and harm Michigan employers at a time when the state budget is in crisis and our unemployment rate remains worst in the nation. That makes it bad legislation.

Editor’s note: The Tantala Associates and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute studies cited above were commissioned by FOARE, the Foundation for Outdoor Advertising Research and Education. The 501(c)(3) charitable foundation says it “supports research and provides an educational forum and structure to assess new and emerging issues related to the outdoor advertising industry.”

About the author: Tom Carroll is president of the Outdoor Advertising Association of Michigan and Vice President of the Central Region for CBS Outdoor.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by e-mailing Please include biographical information and a photo.


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