Some cringe, some shrug at new billboardsby Michael Caputo, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Claire O'Connor of Eden Prairie first saw the digital billboard while driving downtown on I-35W.
It wasn't the brightness or the clarity of the sign that bothered her. It was the sudden transition from advertising TCF Bank to McDonald's.
"So you are diverted for the first ad, then it changes, and you stay there," says O'Connor, who works in the non-profit sector. "Your mind can be a bit confused."
She doesn't like the billboards and believes they contribute to the overall distractions for motorists on the highway.
Others share her view that the new signs by Clear Channel Outdoor are too much of a diversion.
"I have had numerous people anecdotally say to me, 'Boy, that's a traffic hazard,'" says Jeanne Weigum, a volunteer with Scenic St. Paul, which opposes these billboards and, more generally, the proliferation of signs on roads near the city.
A few commuters say that the signs also contribute to visual light pollution.
But not everyone is appalled by the signs.
"I actually kind of like them," says Joelle Andreas, who drives more than 20 miles a day from Eden Prairie to her job in St. Paul. "It makes me feel as though we are moving to a sci-fi future."
Andreas, who works for an organization that links families with exchange students, says there are other driver distractions that are far worse.
"There is more trouble with cell phones," she says. "I had more near misses when it comes to accidents from those."
Paul Linnee of Minneapolis, a former police officer who now consults public safety agencies on communications, has seen the billboards, but is not troubled by them as much as the driver who applies makeup or eats burgers while at the wheel.
His solution: Minnesota ought to have a "distracted driver" law that allows the police officer on the street to cite a driver for having his or her attention diverted by anything. Only two states (New Hampshire and Connecticut) and the District of Columbia have a general distracted driving law, according to AAA.
"It confounds me that government wants to deal with specific prohibitions instead of empowering (the officer)," he says.
But Linnee adds that the billboards themselves don't bother him. They are so clear, he argues, that they should be used by the state's Department of Transportation to announce traffic tie-ups.
O'Connor says the only benefit she can see for the signs would be for public service announcements like the ones Clear Channel announced Wednesday, which will put Amber Alerts on the billboards.
But then she concludes, "Really, I think they just should be banned. Period."