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    New York Times: Digital Billboards, Diversions Drivers Can’t Escape

    Yesterday, I detailed privacy concerns with digital signage advertising, where items such as billboards are targeted to the individual in front of it. Recently, the New York Times detailed the safety problems that can arise from digital billboards.

    These high-tech billboards marry the glow of Times Square with the immediacy of the Internet. Images change every six to eight seconds, so advertisers can flash timely messages — like the latest headlines, coffee deals at dawn, a cheeseburger at lunchtime or even the song playing on a radio station at that moment.

    The billboard industry asserts there is no research indicating they cause crashes, and notes that the signs do not use video or animation.

    But to critics, these ever-changing, bright billboards are “television on a stick” and give drivers, many of them already calling and texting, yet another reason to take their eyes off the road. […]

    Last Thursday, Michigan lawmakers held hearings on legislation, the first of its kind, that would impose a two-year moratorium on the construction of new billboards. Minnesota’s legislature is scheduled to hold hearings this month on a similar moratorium. […]

    The Federal Highway Administration has been conducting a study, which it says will be completed this summer, that uses eye-trackers inside cars to see whether drivers who have volunteered for the study look at the digital billboards, and for how long. The agency also has organized a tour this spring to take researchers to various cities around the world to study how other nations are regulating digital billboards.

    In the United States, only about 2,000 of the nation’s 450,000 billboards are digitized, but the industry expects there to be tens of thousands of them, as many as 15 percent of its overall inventory. […]

    Marketing materials published last year by Clear Channel, one of the nation’s biggest billboard companies, say the digital billboards are, among other things, ideal for posting game scores by advertisers like radio stations and sports bars. News organizations can also use them — “as the Web site headline changes, so does the digital billboard,” the materials say.

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