A new chapter to end mobile billboard blight, Blumenfield aims to restrict the use of potentially dangerous distractions
LOS ANGELES – Today Councilmember Bob Blumenfield introduced a motion for the City of Los Angeles to ban digital billboards on top of personal vehicles. On the streets of LA, drivers have noticed an increasing number of digital billboards attached to the top of some Uber and Lyft ridesharing vehicles.
“It was not too long ago that the Valley was blanketed with unhitched mobile billboards advertising everything you can imagine and I am proud to have helped rid our communities of that blight,” said Blumenfield. “Constituents would come up to me all the time and ask what can we do to get rid of those awful mobile billboards? We learned then that some companies will go to extreme lengths to circumvent regulations. Digital billboards on cars are just the next generation of advertising blight on our streets. They enable companies to use, for free, our public rights of way to profit at the expense of our quality of life. Furthermore, they can be a dangerous distraction for drivers. We need a clear law to prevent this problem from becoming an epidemic.”
Called dynamic message signs (DMS), they use digital LED technology to display changeable illuminated advertising. Currently a company called Firefly installs the rooftop DMS devices using Thule roof racks and wiring the screens to the car battery. At 52 inches long by 17 inches high, the boxes holding the screens are bigger than most rooftop cargo carriers. Uber and Lyft drivers who agree to mount the digital screens on their vehicles may be paid an average of $300.00 monthly.
In November 2018, the City Attorney's Office told Firefly that installation and operation of its DMS devices in the City is illegal under state and City law. Disregarding that admonishment, Firefly continues to place its DMS devices on rideshare vehicles operating in the City. The following month, representatives of Firefly appeared at the Board of Taxicab Commissioners ("Board") to request that the Board permit Firefly to install its DMS devices on the roofs of taxis pursuant to Board Rule 415(c). Board. Rule 415(c) allows commercial advertising to be mounted on a taxicab roof or trunk. The Board has yet to act on that request.
California Highway Patrol (CHP) has expressed safety concerns with Firefly's DMS devices, including that the devices may detract from legal lighting requirements such as clearance lighting and hazard lights, and reduce the effectiveness of emergency vehicle lighting. CHP advised that the DMS devices may impact first responders while operating in a "code three" response.
State law authorizes vehicle digital advertising in only one setting: a pilot program on buses operated by the Antelope Valley Transit Authority, City of Santa Monica, and University of California Irvine. At the time the Legislature authorized the pilot program, it stated its intent to study and identify any adverse impacts on pedestrians and drivers resulting from the use of illuminated signs on the exterior of moving buses.
The Legislative record includes this statement: "While illuminated billboards, either on the side of the road or sides of buses, may not by themselves lead to adverse impacts, it is clear that they contribute to the multiple distractions drivers and pedestrians navigate each day. Adding distractions, especially ones that are particularly effective at drawing one's attention, can only increase the risk of negative outcomes.”
Blumenfield’s motion specifically directs the City Attorney to prepare and present a draft ordinance to repeal Taxicab Board Rule 415(c) and requests the Department of Transportation and the Los Angeles Police Department to take enforcement action against persons who operate vehicles with attached DMS devices within the City of Los Angeles.
Throughout his career, Blumenfield has been a fervent supporter of strict restrictions on mobile billboards and advertisements designed to distract drivers or litter communities. While a member of the State Assembly representing the San Fernando Valley, Blumenfield authored AB 1298 to allow local jurisdictions to ban or regulate mobile billboard advertising displays parked or left on a public street. Mobile billboards were defined as advertising displays attached to a mobile, non-motorized vehicle, device or bicycle that carries, pulls or transports a sign for the primary purpose of advertising. Prior to this law, unhitched trailers advertising a wide array of products and services were frequently seen on streets throughout the Valley and City of Los Angeles, frustrating local residents and businesses, particularly because they reduced available street parking. Until Blumenfield changed State law, local authorities were unable to remove or cite the mobile billboard companies.
Following the passage of AB 1298, the City Council approved two local ordinances regulating mobile billboards that were the subject of litigation and the Court’s review. At that time, the displays were characterized as a visual blight with impacts on traffic safety. The Court found the City’s ordinances did not infringe on First Amendment rights, and the Court stated that the “advertising displays prohibited by the mobile billboard regulations detract from the cities' overall appearance; the outright ban directly serves this stated interest.”
Blumenfield’s motion will be heard in the City Council’s Transportation Committee.