, 2023-04-03 07:33:31,
Preventing Billboard Dystopia
Question: In our city of Kennewick there are several large signs near the street that include bright white lights at night. One is a large LED sign that flashes from subdued colors to mostly bright white, giving your eyes no time to adjust. Another has bright white lights that all blink at the same time, lighting up the area. Are there any safety laws to protect bright lights from interfering with a drivers’ eyesight at night?
Answer: In 1982, Ridley Scott’s movie, Blade Runner, envisioned a future (set in 2019) with flying cars, synthetic humans, and a Los Angeles population of 106 million people. He was way off on those three predictions, but he nailed one thing for sure: digital billboards. Their pervasive presence adds to the dystopian future that the film imagines. Twenty or so years after the release of Blade Runner, the first digital billboards started showing up along highways in the real world. Now digital signs are so abundant it feels like they’ve always been there.
Billboards themselves have been around a long time, gaining popularity in the 1830s as a way to announce the circus coming to town. It took over 100 years, but by the 1960s Washington adopted laws to regulate outdoor advertising along state highways. We now have the “Highway Advertising Control Act – Scenic Vistas Act,” an entire chapter in the Revised Code of Washington.
The purpose of the law, as stated in the opening section, is to “promote the public health, safety, welfare, convenience and enjoyment of public travel” and to conserve natural beauty and scenic areas along our state highways. That’s a lot to expect from a group of laws that regulate signs, but those laws do play a part in traffic safety.
The law includes some prohibitions about illuminated signs near roadways. It prohibits “signs which contain, include, or are illuminated by any flashing, intermittent, or moving light,” with a few exceptions for public service signs that provide information like the time and temperature. The law also prohibits signs that allow light to shine on the highway at “such intensity or brilliance as to cause glare or impair the vision” of a driver or “otherwise interfere” with driving.
From what you’ve described, you’ve found a couple of signs that violate state law, assuming they’re along a state highway. But what if they’re on a city street? The state law says nothing about county and city roads, but local laws do. For…
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