According to Environmental Health and Safety News America, external driving distractions are the third most deadly driving distraction, following the second most deadly driving distraction — cell phone use and texting. It therefore seems ironic that Potomac’s own Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department on Falls Road is using their very bright and distracting electronic sign to tell us to not text and drive.
In addition to reminding us not to text and drive, the sign flashes three other images with messages with each brightly colored sign having a moving background — all in five second rotations. It is impossible to not glance at it as you drive by in both directions on Falls Road, which makes it a manifestation of a driving distraction.
The sign is so bright that it compels one’s eyes to look at it rather than focusing on the road and the distractions there. The frequency of the changing lights and messages holds the eye.
One of the great problems with electronic signage, besides the “in your face” distraction and compelling brightness, is the tendency of digital sign owners to feel they have to always have something to say, rather than leaving the sign dark, or leaving one message. These empty sentiments are frequently nothing more than bumper stickers converted to permanent bright lights.
I feel let down by our County Council that has failed to address the proliferation of digital signs, whose brightness extends beyond property lines “creating a harsh brilliance that causes the observer to squint, shield or avert the eyes.” (Sec.59-F-4.1(e)(2) of MoCo Zoning Ordinance).
We are on the verge of digital signage disrupting the “curb appeal” of Potomac Village. Visual pollution has already altered the unique character of Potomac Village in the form of more and larger signs; trees cut down; larger capacity telephone poles; cell towers; 5G Network installations on top of larger poles; increasing impervious surfaces; and now the appearance of digital/ LED signs.
There needs to be a moratorium on approvals of digital signs until the long-term impact on driving distraction and visual pollution can be determined, and our County Sign Ordinance is updated to address digital signs.