This is an extract from the Communities and Local Government document “Outdoor advertisements and signs: a guide for advertisers”:

…the planning authority will assume that all advertisements are intended to attract people’s attention, so that the advertisement you want to display would not automatically be regarded as a distraction to passers-by in vehicles or on foot.

So planning guidelines assume that advertisements are designed to grab attention, but will not be so distracting that anyone will be killed.  We agree that paper billboards probably don’t cause accidents, but we do believe that electronic advertisements, because of their brightness and changing display, create a much higher level of distraction to drivers and that they therefore constitute a risk which Planners have not properly assessed.

The default position is to grant consent, and cover the issue of public safety by calling for an accident review after a period of time.  The problem is that accident numbers are generally so low and variable that statistically significant results are highly unlikely to be obtained.

This US report acknowledges this problem but uses a number of separate studies in order to conclude whether it is likely that DBBs (digital billboards) increase the probability of vehicle accidents:


Amongst their conclusions is this statement:

It is likely that those who feel that no guidance or regulations can be promulgated until we have clear proof of causality will continue to argue that there is insufficient information to take any action in this regard regarding roadside DBBs. But those who think that their job is to do what they can to enhance safety for the traveling public based upon the best available information, now have, in our opinion, access to a strong and growing body of evidence, including evidence from industry supported research, that roadside digital advertising, attract drivers’ eyes away from the road for extended, demonstrably unsafe periods of time.

Their line of reasoning is based on studies that showed:

  • a significant proportion of accidents are caused by driver distraction
  • DBBs distract driver attention for longer periods than other types of advertising
  • the periods of distraction caused by DBBs are sufficient to cause accidents
  • therefore it is very likely that DBBs cause accidents

We therefore contend that UK planning guidelines should be updated to presume that DBBs are potentially dangerous and should not generally be introduced into roadside locations; certainly not on very busy roads with a high number of vulnerable users such as cyclists – which is the case for many of London’s roads.

That view is supported by this report:

austroads research report on impact of roadside advertising on road safety

which acknowledges that much evidence points to the potential of DBBs to cause accidents.  The authors conclude that DBBs’ locations, brightness, content, dwell and transition times etc should be carefully controlled to minimise this potential.  It seems extraordinary that public officials should be so keen on advertising that they would even take the risk, but it is alarming that so often they do not even heed the advice of reports such as this (see pages 41 and 42 and think about DBBs in your area and the content they show).