California is home to 674 roadside message boards allocated for Amber Alert messages, giving information to drivers on missing or abducted children, and since they're not always in use for actual emergencies, so what's the logical step? Selling the space to businesses for advertisements. The cash-poor state just got their new budget after an 85-day delay, and state officials see this idea as a way to supplement the highway fund with big ad bucks.
But in a state that's even restricted cell-phone use by drivers, the safety implications of the added digital distractions are a concern. One safety advocate says, "The biggest issue with digital billboards is they are enormously distracting to motorists." Others point to the fact that filling up the space with non-emergency messages will reduce the system, which has saved 420 children nationwide, to just another message to ignore in our overstimulated lives.
State Sen. George Runner, author of the bill that created the Amber Alert system in California as well as numerous public safety measures, is behind the idea, though he says, "Whenever you start talking about advertising, you have to be very careful about how you go down that path. But it has the potential to provide tens of millions of dollars for highway repair."
Then there's the crossover of public and private funds — Clear Channel has contributed $1.2 million to state campaigns in the past five years, and could potentially stand to profit from the proposal.