A large two-sided electronic sign just west of the QEII Hwy at Innisfail has some people feeling distracted as they pass it.

Sign, Sign, Everywhere a sign: Electronic billboard on QEII may be distracting for driver

On any given day, an average of about 32,000 vehicles pass by Innisfail on Hwy 2. If you’re a billboard owner, it’s not a bad place to put one. But of you’re Faye Hallett, and the billboard sign is electronic, it’s not a great idea.

On any given day, an average of about 32,000 vehicles pass by Innisfail on Hwy 2.

If you’re a billboard owner, it’s not a bad place to put one.

But of you’re Faye Hallett, and the billboard sign is electronic, it’s not a great idea.

Hallett, who lives in Red Deer, is concerned about electronic billboards on the highway and the distraction they cause at night.

One winter night as she was heading south on Hwy 2, concentrating on the road and fast traffic, she was startled by the electronic billboard on the west side of the highway at Innisfail.

“All a sudden to my right, going through Innisfail … some huge electronic flash just scared me silly, and I jerked my vehicle. It took me several seconds to realize it was a billboard.”

Again, recently she was on the highway at night and found the electronic signage distracting. There’s another electronic billboard on the west side of Hwy 2 just south of Bowden.

Hallett’s concern is that electronic billboards are too distracting to drivers. She believes they should not be allowed beside the highway and raised the issue with the provincial government in January but is still waiting to hear back.

Alberta Transportation does not allow electronic signs within the development control zone of rural provincial highways but it does offer a list of recommended practices. Municipalities are responsible for approvals outside the right-of-way.

“Alberta Transportation encourages both rural and urban municipalities not to permit electronic message signs adjacent to provincial highway right-of-way, especially those that function as graphic and/or video display signs,” it states on its website.

The department’s electronic message signs used to communicate safety and other pertinent information are permitted but governed by strict guidelines.

It turns out the two-sided electronic billboard adjacent to Innisfail is owned by the Innisfail Chamber of Commerce and was approved by the Town of Innisfail.

Dog Bos was Innisfail Chamber president when the sign was installed about five years ago. He said the electronic billboard was his idea.

Now a town councillor, he said revenue from the sign has been key in helping the Chamber dig itself out of the red.

The electronic billboard cost about $200,000. Advertising on it generates about $2,000 per month net revenue for the chamber and when it is paid off this fall, it will provide about $5,000 per month, Bos said, adding the funds allow the chamber to do more to help local businesses.

He said he just returned from the United States where he noticed electronic signs everywhere, and there are a number of them around Central Alberta now.

The Chamber LED sign has a sensor so it is about 90 per cent of its capable brightness during the day, and dims down to about 30 per cent at night.

Bos said he has only heard a couple of complaints and one was about three years ago when the light sensor malfunctioned so it was too bright at night but was quickly repaired.

No videos or scrolling are allowed on the sign, and images have to be on the screen a minimum of 6.5 seconds. It is about 45 metres (150 feet) from the highway, Bos said.

Bos said there are two sides to the electronic sign argument, adding they may actually help drivers stay attentive because of the movement. He said that distracted driving law applies to drivers inside their vehicles, not what’s going on outside the vehicle.

The Chamber has a 99-year lease agreement to have the sign on town right-of-way, he said.

barr@bprda.wpengine.com

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