Digital billboards light up Tampa Bay

12/22/09 Tom Baur
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Elected officials in the Tampa Bay area are struggling with safety and aesthetic issues as they consider proposals for digital billboards along main thoroughfares.

Digital billboards using the LED flat panel technology found in many homes are popping up all over the Tampa Bay area. Advertising companies like ClearChannel and CBS propose digital billboards with the ability to rotate scores of ads as often as every six seconds. Opponents say the bright, fast-changing signs will distract drivers and cause crashes. Bill Jonson, chairman of Scenic Pinellas.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, pressure from neighborhood associations convinced the St. Petersburg City Council to postpone consideration of outgoing Mayor Rick Baker’s proposed digital sign expansion agreement until February. In the agreement ClearChannel Communications will erect 10 digital billboards in return for tearing down 100 static old-school billboards. Bill Jonson explains another reason his organization is opposed to digital billboards.

Another body, the Pinellas County Commission, voted to table ClearChannel’s proposal until the National Highway Administration releases a comprehensive digital billboard safety study due out next April. Jerry Wachtel, a national authority on digital billboards and a member of the team performing the safety study, says research indicates digital signs distract drivers.

ClearChannel lobbyist Todd Pressman disagrees.

Proponents of digital billboards say those opposed to them overstate the case for distraction and drivers will be able to ignore the bright signs. But, Wachler says, that’s not the case.

ClearChannel’s Pressman says digital signs are very effective for law enforcement and safety.

To learn more about the impact of digital billboards go to

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