The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation recently announced it will reassume its authority to regulate billboards along National Highway System (NHS) routes in Philadelphia. PennDOT, which had allowed the City of Philadelphia to regulate billboards along NHS routes since 1974, was concerned that a lack of effective control of outdoor advertising along the routes as mandated by the Highway Beautification Act, would result in a 10 percent reduction in the amount of federal highway aid that the state receives.
The federal government began allowing the construction of digital billboards along interstate highways in 2007. In response to concerns over the potential effects on driver attention, FHWA conducted a study and found that while drivers may look at digital signs slightly more than they look at standard billboards, this was not associated with a decrease in drivers’ attention to the roadway or an increase in unacceptably long glances away from the roadway. However, an extensive, peer-reviewed, January 2015 critique has raised concerns about both the methodology and results of the FHWA study.
In “A Super Bowl Spot for Uncle Sam,” Harper’s Magazine posts a round table on how the government might use Madison Avenue techniques to sell itself.