Digital roadside billboards with multiple ads on way
Lucrative … a billboard near Sydney Airport. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
THE state government is poised to relax a ban on digital roadside billboards, despite new research suggesting they distract motorists and could significantly affect driver performance.
Roads and Maritime Services will within weeks submit a proposal to planning authorities that would allow digital screens displaying multiple advertisements to motorists, similar to those near Sydney Airport.
But the rate at which the bright, high-quality advertisements are displayed before changing to the next, known as "dwell times", is a sticking point.
Experts say each advertisement should be on screen for as long as possible, to minimise sudden movements that can distract drivers.
But the outdoor advertising industry wants intervals as low as eight seconds, saying more regular transitions are required to make the technology viable. A large LED billboard costs around $1 million.
RMS has been negotiating with the industry to develop the guidelines, and has recommended "various dwell times of between eight and 30 seconds, dependent on the speed zone".
It is understood to have ceded ground on a position it held last February of no less than 15 seconds.
At the time, the Outdoor Media Association slammed the department's "risk aversion", saying it was "stunting the growth of the industry in NSW".
However the association's chief executive, Charmaine Moldrich, confirmed the RMS has now moved closer to the dwell times being pushed by the industry.
An RMS spokeswoman said road safety was "a key priority". The proposed guidelines will be submitted to a Planning Department review of signage laws.
RMS operates 70 non-electronic signs across NSW, which are licensed to outdoor advertising companies. Annual revenue has almost doubled over the past five years to $19 million.
Other signs are privately owned, including a series of billboards on the M2 run by Manboom, a company part-owned by James Packer and John Singleton.
Digital billboards are far more lucrative than traditional signs, enabling higher licensing fees and user charges.
Three electronic billboards near Sydney Airport are on land outside state government control, with dwell times of 10 seconds.
By March, three signs will be erected in Queensland, with dwell times of 30 seconds in speed zones greater than 80km/h. Dwell times in Victoria are generally limited to 30 seconds, but can vary depending on location.
The debate coincides with a report by the national transport body Austroads released last week, which said inconsistent roadside advertising guidelines between jurisdictions allow states to be "played off" against each other by the outdoor advertising industry.
The report found drivers could divert attention to digital billboards "at the expense of the driving task purely to see what is displayed in the next transition" and that movement or changing luminosity could "involuntarily capture attention … to the detriment of driving performance".
"Where this happens in a driving situation that is also cognitively demanding, the consequences have the potential to be significant," it said.
Inexperienced and older drivers would likely be worst affected.
The outdoor advertising industry claims evidence on the safety effects of roadside signs is "inconsistent and contradictory". It says the focus should shift to other sources of distraction such as in-vehicle electronic devices and digital signs on commercial premises, such as pubs and clubs.
The planning department said dwell times for digital signs were "just one issue being considered" in its review of advertising and signage controls, and no decision had been made.