The digital billboard market is anything but static in Christchurch as businesses and advertisers target prime locations, triggering a road safety warning. Chris Barclay reports of “distraction” for motorists.

The Automobile Association has urged motorists not to be distracted by bright lights in plain sight or out of the corner of their eye, as a key advertising medium gains even more prominence in the city’s landscape.

As Christchurch City Council staff sift through 25 apps to set up multi-message screens on high-traffic routes, the AA has a point for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians: Be vigilant.

Digital billboards are becoming more visible as businesses maximize customer exposure as motorists pass, are stuck in traffic, or wait for lights to change at an intersection.

The workload comes as a City Council spokesperson said the organization had issued 75 resource permits for digital billboards and 12 certificates of compliance since January 1, 2010.

Crash data specifying billboard distractions as a factor is difficult to quantify – motorists are often reluctant to report bad behavior themselves if it shows they are responsible for an accident.

But the latest figures from the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency show distraction as a factor in 23 road deaths and 125 serious injuries in 2020.

Categories of distraction include taking your eyes off the road and thinking about something other than driving.

AA traffic safety spokesman Dylan Thomsen was unaware that digital billboards were a factor in a traffic accident, but distractions were undeniably a common cause of accidents.

“The latest crash statistics available from New Zealand show that 18% of crashes involving injury involved inattention and 18% involved not seeing another party, with some crashes involving both factors,” he said. he declared.

“Digital billboards, especially those containing moving text or images, certainly have the risk of distracting a driver’s attention and when people are driving we want them to focus on what is is happening on the road around them.”

Thomsen added that while advertising was always going to be present in urban environments, safeguards were needed.

“From a traffic safety perspective, you wouldn’t want the signs to be placed just anywhere, which could cause a driver to miss seeing other important signs like speed limit changes, a crossing for pedestrians or a school zone sign.

“They’re also not ideal in busy environments – like a multi-lane intersection, for example – where drivers already have to focus on multiple things like oncoming traffic, vehicles behind them and pedestrians. “

Attempts to put up digital billboards invariably lead to debates between transport planners and engineers hired by the applicants and on behalf of the local authority.

“In essence, I have concerns if a billboard is the backdrop for a traffic light. But it gets pretty complicated pretty quickly,” said Axel Downard-Wilke, Senior Traffic Engineer and Transport Planner, Director of ViaStrada Limited.

City council staff and hearing commissioners face a balancing act, as the district plan acknowledges that digital billboards have “the potential to distract or confuse motorists”, but also acknowledges that ” Signage collectively contributes to the vitality of Christchurch by: supporting community businesses, infrastructure and activities; maintaining public safety and enhancing character and amenity values.

The city council did not have a figure available on the number of digital billboards on display in the city, but major players Go Media and LUMO currently have eight locations each listed on their websites.

LUMO has sites on Riccarton Rd and Tuam St “coming soon” as they have successfully persevered with a location on Lincoln Rd near the intersection of Moorhouse Ave opposite Hagley Park.

The application at the Gull service station site was rejected because the billboards would have been erected within the required 50 meter setback from the Moorhouse/Hagley/Lincoln/Grove intersection.

LUMO then obtained a certificate of conformity for two double-sided display panels outside the set in March 2021, while the size of the display panels was reduced from 29.2 m² to 18 m².

While the city council has jurisdiction over digital billboards in the city, Waka Kotahi handles applications for national highways.

“Waka Kotahi acknowledges the international evidence that digital billboards distract drivers more than conventional static billboards, especially on high-speed routes.

“In order to limit and mitigate the security risks of digital billboards, Waka Kotahi seeks to utilize the provisions of the Resource Management Act 1991 as much as possible to prevent unnecessary harm,” a carrier said. word.

The agency is currently reviewing its digital billboard document, which will eventually be incorporated into the recently released Road to Zero strategy to reduce road tolls.

Road safety campaigner Geoff Upson offered an alternative perspective on the risks posed by digital billboards.

“It goes without saying that anything designed to capture drivers’ attention can raise safety concerns,” he said.

“However now the majority of speed limits have become a creeping 30km/h in city centers and 80km/h or less on the open road is probably a good thing because driving at speed this slow doesn’t require a lot of brain power anymore, and the distractions will help boost the brain and, therefore, concentration levels while driving.

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