Policy & Advocacy - Issues

Vegetation Control

Billboard opponents often support a ban by state departments of transportation on trimming or cutting of vegetation in front of legally erected billboards – a way to indirectly ban billboards.

Vegetation management is a common practice by utility industries and other businesses located along public rights of way, and may improve highway safety.

The Outdoor Advertising Association of Georgia opposes any attempt to tighten the current the states current vegetation control agreements and is in support of responsible removal of vegetation blocking legally erected signs.

Nonconforming Signs

The original Highway Beautification Act of 1965 was enacted as a way to encourage states to enact legislation controlling outdoor advertising on interstate and federal-aid primary highways. As part of the control provisions of the original Highway Beautification Act of 1965, outdoor advertising signs could be erected within areas zoned commercial or industrial or within unzoned commercial or industrial areas subject to size, lighting and spacing regulations. In addition, the original HBA required signs lawfully erected under state law that became nonconforming to be acquired and removed within five years from the date the sign became nonconforming.

Currently, States have the discretion to remove legal nonconforming signs along highways; however, the payment of just (monetary) compensation is required for the removal of any lawfully erected billboard along the Federal-Aid Primary, Interstate and National Highway System roads. In 1992, the HBA was amended to make nonconforming sign removals voluntary on the part of the states. Funds continue to be available for control and removal of signs under the newly enacted TEA 21 (1998). A key policy concerning nonconforming signs is the remodeling and renovation of such signs.

Presently, the twenty-five year old federal policy only allows routine maintenance to an existing sign. Exceptions may be made to allow a destroyed sign to be re-erected, which may include allowing signs that are destroyed by vandalism, tortious, or other criminal acts to be re-erected in kind.

Valuation of Billboards

When billboards are acquired for public projects like highway widenings, the methods for appraisal and valuation to determine just compensation often are contested.

The Outdoor Advertising Association of Georgia supports the fair market value formula to value outdoor advertising signs.

Each billboard is an income-producing entity – unique, permanent structures affixed to real estate. Each structure and each location generates revenues and should be acquired at its full fair market value as if the property was being sold in the open market.

Traffic Safety

Opponents assert – without evidence – that billboards cause traffic accidents.

The Outdoor Advertising Association of Georgia cites years worth of studies, expert testimony and court decisions in affirming its position that there is no correlation between standardized outdoor advertising and traffic accidents.

A broad sampling of law enforcement agencies across the country found no evidence that drivers’ accidents were caused by billboards.

Further, many state departments of transportation use billboards to provide information to the motoring public.

Digital Billboards

On September 25, 2007, FHWA issued a guidance memo on Off-Premise ChangeableMessage Signs that stated, “Proposed laws, regulations, and procedures thatwould allow permitting CEVMS (commercial electronic variable message signs)subject to acceptable criteria (as described below) do not violate a prohibitionagainst ‘intermittent’ or ‘flashing’ or ‘moving’ lights as those terms are usedin the various FSAs (federal-state agreements) that have been entered intoduring the 1960s and 1970s.”

  • In 1996, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) said “changeable message signs are acceptable for off-premise signs, regardless of the type of technology used.”
  • Digital technology is another method of changing billboard copy.
  • Digital billboard messages are static; they do not scroll, flash or feature full-motion video.

  

Digital Billboards

The OAAG is dedicated to assisting Law Enforcement & Emergency Management agencies through the use of digital billboards. In 2008, the OAAG signed public-private partnerships with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) and the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA). Below is a press release regarding the FBI partnership and letters from all agencies highlighting the importance of these relationships:

 

Letter from GEMA regarding OAAG-GEMA partnership

Letter from GBI regarding OAAG-GBI partnership

Letter from FBI regarding OAAG-FBI partnership

 

Background

  • Out of home advertising is a growing $6.8 billion industry; the OAAA anticipates sustained growth in 2007.
  • A tiny fraction of billboards are digital (more than 1,500 out of an estimated 450,000 total billboards in the United States).
  • Over the next few years, it is anticipated that several hundred digital displays may be built each year.
  • Copy changes on billboards; digital technology is a means for changing static copy.
  • Digital billboards display static messages that resemble standard painted/printed billboards when viewed.
  • Digital billboards do not feature animation, flashing lights, scrolling, or full-motion video. These standards are reflected in the OAAA Code of Industry Practices to ensure that commercial and noncommercial messages disseminated on standard-size digital billboards will be static messages and the content shall not include animated, flashing, scrolling, intermittent or full-motion video elements.

Advantages of Digital Billboards

  • Authorities can deliver emergency, law-enforcement, and public service information:
    • AMBER Alerts to find missing children
    • Weather and disaster bulletins
  • “Wanted” information to help find fugitives. 

"(The industry) has allowed our agency the complimentary use of their billboards to display photos and names of violent criminals, missing persons, or to solicit secret witness information. It is not only important in the event of a fleeing felon, but when we have abducted children or missing Alzheimer patients, time is crucial for success. The resource could be a lifeline for some of our most vulnerable citizens.
This is an exciting partnership that will allow us to move fast and efficiently if we need to sweep for information. The use of these billboards are a growing trend in law enforcement, ranging from the FBI to local Sheriff’s and Chiefs, with impressive results. The posting on the boards contribute to an environment where the criminal feels pressure that they have no where to go."
Michael Haley
Washoe County Sheriff
Reno, NV

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has partnered with the outdoor industry to identify wanted criminals.  As agent Michael Mason explained on a December 24, 2007 piece on the Today Show:  “You can place them near the scene of the crime. You can place them near the scene of the problem. And as a result, the people seeing the billboard are going to be people who should have some familiarity with the problem.”

    • Countdown to fishing season (MN Department of Natural Resources; Wildlife Forever Nonprofit)
    • Environmental tips (City of Albuquerque Health Department)

Within 15 minutes of the bridge collapse in Minnesota, digital billboards in the Minneapolis market were displaying an emergency message, highlighting the nimble nature of this medium:

The following day, when officials converged on Minneapolis to inspect the damage, they noticed the billboards. Speaking on national TV on August 2, US Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) cited the emergency messaging on digital billboards as a positive community response:  
"When Senator Coleman and I landed, we’re driving in . . . and there were already billboards at 9:00 in the morning -- actual billboards -- telling people where to go for alternative routes."


Real-time election results to inform the traveling public. During the Iowa caucuses, A Dubuque County election official seems taken with the idea of informing the general public of the caucus results with the flash of a digital screen.
"They'll be getting the information out quicker and to a wider audience," said Tom O'Neill, Dubuque County deputy commissioner of elections.   

  • Advertisers can deliver real-time information.
  • Most advertisements on digital billboards promote local businesses, and most of those are considered “small businesses.”
  • Digital billboards can adapt quickly in fast-changing, competitive environments. Examples include:
    • Changing interest rates or mortgage rates
    • Lottery jackpots
    • Sales specials
  • There is the potential for advertisers to target and purchase by day part, location or geography.
  • Advertisers no longer have printing and shipping costs.
  • Multiple advertisers can share prime locations.
  • Digital boards create demand for high-tech jobs.

Digital Billboard Regulations

  • On September 25, 2007, FHWA issued a guidance memo on Off-Premise Changeable Message Signs that stated, “Proposed laws, regulations, and procedures that would allow permitting CEVMS (commercial electronic variable message signs) subject to acceptable criteria (as described below) do not violate a prohibition against ‘intermittent’ or ‘flashing’ or ‘moving’ lights as those terms are used in the various FSAs (federal-state agreements) that have been entered into during the 1960s and 1970s.”

  • In 1996, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issued a memo that said changeable-message billboards are acceptable if allowed by state-federal agreements. Most states allow changeable-message billboards.

  • States determine “dwell time” (typically six or eight seconds) and spacing between billboards.

Traffic Safety

Traffic safety experts have studied the relationship between outdoor advertising and traffic accidents since the 1950’s, finding no scientific or authoritative evidence that billboards are linked to traffic accidents. 

Traffic safety experts say that digital billboards are not linked with accidents. First, a study from South Carolina shows that digital billboards are not associated with traffic accidents. The South Carolina Department of Transportation reviewed accident data for six months after installation of three digital billboards in 2006 compared to the same timeframe during the prior year.

“The study based on the period of review does not highlight a problem with the digital billboards. Also, as of August 28, 2007, the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) has not received any complaints in regard to the digital billboards,” said Deputy State Highway Engineer Dipak M. Patel, on September 6, 2007.

Secondly, driver behavior is not significantly impacted by digital billboards, according to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI). Thirdly, an exhaustive study of accident data showed that “digital billboards have no statistical relationship with the occurrence of accidents.” (Tantala Associates, 2007)

Government-sponsored research says that brief glances away from the forward roadway for the purpose of scanning the driving environment are safe and actually decrease crash risks (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2006). The typical glance towards a digital billboard is less than one second, according to a VTTI study (2007).

“Digital billboards are considered safety-neutral in design and operations from a human factors perspective,” said VTTI.

 

 

 


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