Although some say that the moving, flashing, scrolling mass of letters and images on huge roadways signs amounts to a form of blight in and of itself, that wasn't the direct aim of Knoxville County Commissioners in banning conversion of traditional billboards to digital format.
Knoxville car accident lawyers know it had more to do with distraction and contribution to crashes along our commercial thoroughfares and highways.
We aren't the first city to ban such billboards.
In December, a Los Angeles appellate court ruled that some 100 digital billboards throughout the city have to come down, finding that the permits obtained for them are invalid, as the city council had signed a deal with the firms in a closed-door session, despite an already-existing ban on digital conversions.
Numerous other cities have taken a similar stand.
The states of Maine, Vermont, Alaska and Hawaii ban billboards altogether - including the digital kind.
Part of that has to do with the 1965 Highway Beautification Act, which was passed with the goal of limiting commercial advertising along America's highways. However, five years ago, the Federal Highway Safety Administration ruled that digital billboards don't violate that act, despite the clear wording that bans "moving," "flashing" or "intermittent" lights.
That ruling was head-scratching, but many cities - Knoxville included - have taken the issue into their own hands. Of course, the issue of whether it is a real distraction is unclear. It hasn't been studied a great deal. what we do know is that it only takes a moment of distraction to result in fatal consequences.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration focuses its distraction message on actions for which drivers are inherently responsible: Texting, talking on the cell phone, grooming, eating or drinking, using a navigation system, watching a video or fiddling with the radio. However, the thing about digital billboards is that drivers don't have a choice but to look at them. The eye can't help but be drawn to strobe lights along the roadway.
A 2009 study by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials found that digital billboards are unsafe, as they attract a drivers' attention for extended periods of time, which has proven to be dangerous. Although the billboard industry categorically denies this, the whole point of these signs is to attract attention. Otherwise, why put them along the roadway?
In Knoxville, commissioners decided to strike a compromise on the issue, though they were sharply divided on the three proposals. While the group did sign a measure that will prevent conversion, it did not approve two other laws. One would have put a ban on all new billboards, and the other would have meant the elimination of all electronic message boards - even those in front of banks or other businesses that scroll the temperature and time.
But those latter two aren't dead entirely. They have been forwarded to the county's planning commission, which is expected to conduct further study and report back to the commission in April.
If you are involved in a Knoxville traffic accident, contact Hartsoe Law Firm, P.C. at (865) 524-5657.
Knox County Commission OKs ordinance that bans billboard conversions, Jan. 29, 2013, By Mike Donila, Knoxville News Sentinel
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