Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Litter on a stick: Trying to get some breathing room on rush toward weapons of mass distraction

Today’s New York Times highlights attempts in Michigan to place a temporary moratorium on digital electronic billboards: http://nyti.ms/dc4sdI.
The idea is to slow down the digital rush while data regarding their level of driver distraction and safety can be analyzed.

Michigan is second only to Florida in the number of billboards, otherwise known as “litter on a stick.” Although Michigan has a cap on the raw number of billboards, it hasn’t stopped the industry from converting them as fast as possible to ever-brighter, and ever-changing digital versions. You’ve probably seen them: “Televisions on a stick.”

Nor has the cap stopped enterprising lawmakers from trying to circumvent the cap with bad legislation, sometimes written specifically for individual campaign donors so that they can keep illegal signs.

Groups like Scenic Michigan www.scenicmichigan.org are fighting to keep the billboards at bay. I’m on the organization’s Board of Directors. Last year, we were successful in derailing a piece of bad legislation that would have potentially opened the door to hundreds of new billboards currently prohibited under the cap.

Billboards don’t make my purist's Top Ten list of environmental challenges facing Michigan. But I believe that the way we treat our view from the highway is indicative of how we treat our state’s natural treasures.

Frankly, they’re ugly. They diminish and cheapen the image and value of the communities and properties that surround them. And they’re unnecessary. Four states, Hawaii, Vermont, Alaska and Maine have billboard bans.

House Bill 5580 is currently in State Rep. Rebekah Warren’s Great Lakes and the Environment Committee. It doesn’t ban digital billboards. Nor does it reduce the number of billboards. It’s just lets us take a deep breath and consider whether lighting up the landscape with these things is safe, or even sane.

We already are challenged by multiple distractions on the road: cell phones, radios, gps systems, etc. But billboards, especially digital ones, are the ONLY distractions whose sole intention is to take our attention off the road.

You can quickly find your state representative here http://house.michigan.gov/find_a_rep.asp

Let ‘em know what you think.


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