Digital billboards along Ontario's highways worry paramedics

With their big, bold images, digital billboards are designed to draw the attention of drivers, and now they're drawing the ire of Ontario's emergency medical workers.

In response to a proposal to erect new billboards in four locations along Highways 401 and 427, the Toronto and Ontario paramedic associations have each penned letters to Premier Kathleen Wynne asking her to kibosh the plan.

"The [Toronto Paramedic Association] TPA is greatly troubled by the news that efforts are underway to seek regulatory exemptions related to signage and digital billboards on Ontario Highways," the TPA's Geoff MacBride wrote in his in letter.

"Currently these signs are not permitted. The reasoning for this is obvious. Digital billboards are designed with one reason, to draw your attention. Anything that distracts road users from solely concentrating on their driving is completely unsafe and totally inappropriate."

Cars drive past a digital billboard in Bucharest, Romania. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Cars drive past a digital billboard in Bucharest, Romania. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Metrolinx, the arms-length government body that oversees transportation in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, could potentially earn millions of dollars from the project. 

In an email to Yahoo Canada News, they said that they're committed to public safety and "would never support the placement of signs on its property that put the well-being of motorists or anyone else at risk."

The Ministry of Transportation  the ultimate arbiter in the dispute  claims that no decision has been made. 

"Safety is our top priority," MTO spokesperson Bob Nichols told Yahoo Canada News.

"The ministry has received a proposal for digital billboards in several locations along our highways in Toronto. We have not given approval for these signs.  

"Any decision will be made with safety as prime consideration.  Metrolinx is aware that no decision has been made and has confirmed that they will not allow billboards to be erected without provincial approval."

Despite the paramedics' concerns, their doesn't seem to be consensus on whether or not digital billboards cause more accidents.

A very robust study in Reading Pennsylvania claims that "digital billboards...have no statistically significant relationship with the occurrence of accidents."

Other studies, however, suggest the opposite.

According to a U.S.-based anti-digital billboard organization, a Wisconsin Department of Transportation study from the 1980s "found that sideswipe and rear-end collisions were up as much as 35 per cent where the sign was most visible."

Others who have studied the issue, claim that provinces and municipalities can mitigate the risks by moving billboards further away from the road or by controlling brightness levels.

They ads are already an issue in other parts of the country, from Lethbridge to Halifax.

What do you think? Should digital billboards be allowed along our highways in Canada?

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

(Photo via Reuters)

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