Mount Olive Chronicle By Phil Garber January 18, 2017
MOUNT OLIVE TWP, New Jersey. – They flash different messages every eight seconds and police and other officials are convinced that digital billboards pose a hazardous distraction to passing motorists.
But despite police concerns, the township may not be able to block applications to set up flashing signs on Route 46 and Route 206.
The Planning Board is scheduled to resume hearings on Thursday, Feb. 9, into an application by Eye Spy Media Corp. of Lakeville, Pa., to erect two, 10- by 30-foot digital billboards to replace the Trading Post sign on Route 46 west in Budd Lake. One billboard would face eastbound traffic and the other would be seen by westbound travelers.
They would each provide eight second commercials with a maximum of eight advertisers per cycle.
Police have objected to the application citing the hazardous conditions along Route 46 that have resulted in numerous accidents in past years.
A second application is expected from Outfront Media Inc. to install a digital billboard near the municipal sewer plant on Route 206 northbound. Outfront Media of New York City, formerly CBS Outdoor, is one of the largest billboard companies in North America.
Both applications require use variances as they are not permitted in the zones.
Digital billboards have been popping up around the country, often along interstate highways like those on Interstate 287 in Franklin Township or along the N.J. Turnpike. Digital billboards are used to advertise everything from air conditioners in the summer, to allergy medications during times of high pollen counts to FBI wanted posters.
The Outdoor Advertising Association of America, reported there are more than 400,000 billboards in the U.S., including from 2,000 to 3,200 digital displays. The industry has been adding hundreds of the more-profitable signs each year.
The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration released a landmark study in 2014 declaring that digital billboards do distract drivers for slightly longer than standard billboards but not enough to pose a safety risk to passing motorists.
The report is titled “Driver Visual Behavior In The Presence of Commercial Electronic Variable Message Signs.” It refers to digital billboards as “Commercial Electronic Variable Message Signs” or CEVMS. The studies sought to address three specific questions:
To conduct the study, the FHA tracked participant’s eye movements with an eye-tracking camera device mounted in the vehicle. The device tracked the driver’s eyeball movement to determine if the driver was looking ahead or to the side of the roadway at a billboard.
The research involved motorists in Richmond, Va., and Reading, Pa., and concluded that drivers do look at digital billboards measurably longer than at static billboards. Glance duration toward digital billboards averaged 0.379 seconds, while glances at static billboards were at 0.335 seconds at both test sites. Both measurements fall far below the two-second benchmark, which would constitute a hazard, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The non-profit, “Scenic America” organization disputes the federal study and points to another study published in the journal “Traffic Injury Prevention” that concludes “that digital billboards attract and hold the gazes of drivers for far longer than a threshold that previous studies have shown to be dangerous.”
The study, conducted by researchers at the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute and funded by the Swedish Transport Administration, found that drivers looked at digital billboards significantly longer than they did at other signs on the same stretch of road, with the digital signs often taking a driver’s eyes off the road for more than two seconds.
Scenic America, an organization formed to “safeguard the scenic qualities of America’s roadways, countryside and communities,” opposes the proliferation of digital bill boards, which it calls “the biggest threat now facing America’s communities and highways is the proliferation of digital billboards. These huge TVs-on-a-stick distract drivers, throw off huge amounts of light into neighboring homes and the night sky, and constitute a magnified blight on the landscape.”
The courts have allowed municipalities to set standards but have not supported prohibitions against digital billboards.
On Sept. 15, 2016, the state Supreme Court reversed a decision of the Franklin Township Zoning Board of Adjustment and invalidated a township ordinance that barred placement of electronic billboards along Interstate 287 in the township. The township had claimed that it reached its decision on aesthetic and public safety concerns.
The court however, decided that there were no evidence that “the installation of a single digital billboard in the township will exacerbate the accident rate.”