TPSI is concerned about traffic safety issues surrounding billboards in general, including static electronic billboards, such as those found in this proposal.
Page 5 of the Staff Report contains a list of the new billboard locations. A quick look at a map in google street view suggests that billboard 3, 4, 6, and 7 will be along major roadways while billboards 8, 9, and 10 will be installed along the Gardiner Expressway.
This is problematic given that multiple studies link billboards, electronic or otherwise, to increased driver distraction and lower road safety. These include statistical and empirical studies ‘on the ground’ as well as advanced driving simulator studies ‘in the laboratory’. However, many studies also suggest that billboards are safe – the problem being that many of these appear to be funded by the outdoor advertising industry itself.
In the 2009 publication “Safety Impacts of the emerging Digital Display Technology for Outdoor Advertising Signs” Jerry Wachel conducts a major literature review of research on driver safety and billboards suggesting that research sponsored by the outdoor advertising industry generally concludes that there are no adverse effects from bright and digital billboards, even in a case where the actual study findings indicated otherwise. However, according to the report, studies by government, insurance companies, and auto safety groups regularly demonstrate bright roadside ads such as LED and digital billboards contribute to driver distraction and lower road safety.
A 2011 US Department of Transportation literature review cites numerous studies showing a relationship between LED billboards and increased traffic accidents, concluding “The review of crashes presented previously suggests that EBBs may be associated with a higher crash rate under certain conditions. If this possibility is verified through further research, then it can be asked whether these crashes are a result of driver distraction in which the distracting stimulus is the EBB.”
A study titled the “Effects of advertising billboards during simulated driving”, in Applied Ergonomics 42 (2011) 619-626, is one of many ‘controlled laboratory’ studies which connects billboards to driver distraction, lower response time, and increased driving task errors, especially in new drivers and older drivers. It found that the distraction delayed drivers for 1/2 to 1 second, or 20 meters in a vehicle travelling 70km/h.
This delay can be deadly. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles 80% of crashes and 65% of near crashes involve driver distraction within 3 seconds of a crash. The California DMV cites looking at billboards as a potential distraction.
Another study titled “The role of roadside advertising signs in distracting drivers”, in the International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics 40 (2010) 233-236, provides an example of another controlled simulator experiment linking roadside advertising to declined driving performance and increased danger. In addition, “Conflicts of interest: The implications of roadside advertising for driver attention”, Transportation Research Part F (2009) 381-388, researchers use simulation and find that roadside advertising undermines driver attention and lateral control.
Toronto staff have also made recommendations against bright and distracting signage and billboards along major expressways numerous times.
For example, this staff report commenting on a variance application for a bright LED sign on Wickman Road on the QEW states that, “The Transportation Division sited “The Human Factors” study conducted in 2004 for Transportation Services that showed that drivers will take their eyes off the roadway to look at these types of signs for a greater length of time. Based on the findings of that report it was found that most traffic collisions in the city are attributed to driver error, suggesting that permitting additional distractions will decrease the safety performance on the roadway.”
Another staff report for a bright LED sign on 1001 Finch W. states that “The use of the LED screen displays was not supported for the reason that current sign technologies may allow for variations in content and contrast that will increasingly distract drivers operating vehicles.”
Is should also be noted that several American jurisdictions have banned bright distracting billboards, including Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, and six locations in Texas, among other jurisdictions around the globe that have billboard bans and restrictions, including Ontario which has limited distracting advertising along portions of its major highways.