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Flashy billboards along Gardiner the biggest distraction of all?

Forget the cellphone. Those bold, flashing electronic signs along the Gardiner may be the biggest distraction for drivers, says Ian Law.

  • Gray modern car closeup on black background.

Last Sunday I was driving eastbound on the Gardiner Expressway and as I rose up onto the elevated section of the highway the first thing that caught my eye was a bright and bold flashing electronic sign begging for my attention. It was as if I had my own giant HD TV screen in front of me to watch colourful moving ads.

Great, just what the motoring world needs, more distractions. This as the OPP kicks off another blitz on distracted drivers across the province this week.

We all know distracted driving is a leading cause for the majority of our traffic troubles.

More: Is this the ultimate urban driving distraction?

More: Police to blitz distracted drivers once again

So why then would we allow big corporations to distract drivers on one of the GTA’s busiest and worst designed roads?

The elevated section of the Gardiner has no shoulders for disabled vehicles or for use as a collision escape route. It has blind corners due to the horizontal curves hugged by concrete walls and it is famous for backed-up traffic. It already has more than its fair share of traffic collisions. Blocked lanes are almost commonplace on this ancient roadway.

The last thing any intelligent driver on the Gardiner should want is for the motorist or trucker behind them to be watching a flashy billboard movie instead of the traffic screeching to a halt around the next blind curve.

On sections of the 400 series highways there are strict limits on what advertising can be placed close to the road. About six years ago, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled against a businessman who wanted to place a rather large sign on his property in proximity to the 401. There is a provincial law that limits the rights of property owners to place signs adjacent to major Ontario highways.

The owner of the sign and property was upset at the loss of his rights to advertise on his property. But there are other issues here other than the rights of an individual or corporation to do whatever they feel is in their best interest.

Diverting one’s attention from driving, whether it be to talk on the cellphone, change the CD in the stereo or read billboards, leads to missed information that could prevent loss of control or a collision. When your eyes are not on what is happening in front of you, your brain is not processing the information on traffic or road conditions.

A traffic study done not too long ago in Europe yielded some startling results. When traffic engineers removed traffic signs that informed drivers about intersections, merges etc., crashes and collisions decreased.

Traffic engineers concluded that drivers were paying more attention to their driving when they had less information spoon fed to them by signs. Now motorists had to actually think about their driving. This concept made the motorists in this study safer by forcing them to think their way through the drive. Interestingly, other studies show the more information on a traffic sign, the less the driver comprehended about the information.

You would think that any motorist with even the slightest of intelligence should want all the other drivers in their immediate vicinity to be paying attention to their driving and not reading or watching TV-like jumbo-tron billboards.

I certainly do not want that fuel-tanker tailgating me along the Garinder while the driver reads where he can buy his Viagra at a cheaper price.

We need all motorists to be watching where they are going and to be fully focused on one thing: driving.

What do you think? Are these flashy billboard signs effective forms of advertising or just distracting?

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