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California Considers Selling Space on Amber Alert Signs: OK?

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.


Mykie7 Mykie7 9 years
I also just looked for a statistic about the effectiveness of these boards, and here is just a BIT of what I found. The participants were 120 licensed drivers from three age groups-18-24, 32-47, and 55-65 years old. Two experiments were conducted in a fully-interactive, PC-based STISIM driving simulator. Experiment One investigated the effectiveness of the following message, CRASH/AT WYOMING AVE/USE THOMPSON EXIT. In Experiment Two, the final CMS message was: AMBER ALERT/RED FORD TRUCK/MN LIC# SLM 509. Results. In Experiment Two, only 8.3% of the participants had Excellent AMBER Recall Scores, while 51.7% had Good scores. Gender significantly affected the AMBER Recall Scores-there were more females than males in the Excellent Category. A greater proportion of those who knew what AMBER Alert meant were in the Excellent and Good Categories. 21.7% of the participants slowed down by at least 2 mph. Whether or not traffic delays will result from drivers slowing to read AMBER Alerts in real life will depend on the extent of the slow downs and on current traffic density. I If you want to read the entire study, it can be found at
Mykie7 Mykie7 9 years
basty, part of the reason that cutting into TV broadcasts is ineffective, is because more and more people are using TIVO and won't get the alerts because of it. Also, with radio, alot of people aren't listening to NPR anymore, they're listening to their CD's in their cars, so cutting into THAT won't work either. The signs are there for people in the commute traffic where it may be the only way they see the alert.
bastylefilegirl bastylefilegirl 9 years
"have radios in their cars and televisions in their home, which would be far more effective ways to reach people." Organic that's exactly right they show Amber Alerts on TV in CA so if you can cut into TV time why can't you cut into radio time? I just dont' understand why we need the signs on the freeway...they annoy me!
ilanac13 ilanac13 9 years
i think that it's a BAD idea to advertise on the signs. 1) people always slow down when the come upon those signs and if ther'es more to read, then there will be more slow traffic and back ups and accidents 2) if people get used to seeing only ads on the boards, then what will happen when they start to ignore them and there's a REAL amber alert? it'll get ignored. i understand that the state wants to raise money but i think that it's a bad idea to use something that was designed as a public service to generate revenue
javsmav javsmav 9 years
Hey, car companies are already getting free advertising--why not charge them each time a criminal uses their car. I mean, doesn't reading that sign make you want to buy a Ford Explorer? ;) I think this is a bad idea. I don't drive so I don't think I've ever seen an Amber alert, but I can see how it could make the whole alert system less effective.
popgoestheworld popgoestheworld 9 years
If they want to raise money for the cause by doing this then I'm okay with that. I feel like I would pay MORE attention if the sign were to actually change. I think a trial run of some sort could be interesting.
lexichloe lexichloe 9 years
People will become desensitized to these signs if they serve another purpose. When I'm driving and see an amber alert, I'm immediately on guard for the information.
snowbunny11 snowbunny11 9 years
I think that if there is a risk of increased accidents, the money they get from the sponsors won't even help that much, because more money will be going to cleaning up the accidents which would clog the thruways. I agree with True Song tho, if you kept the same ad up all the time, like if Coke sponsored one board, and Nike sponsored another, it would be less distracting, and then people would notice if it changed to an Amber alert, or some other alert. And keep the message simple like, "Nike" or "Coke," just a logo. It could still be effective advertising.
organicsugr organicsugr 9 years
I'd like to state that I ride the bus. So, while I'm not only more environmentally-aware than most of you, I don't have to worry about crashing my car when I read the messages the government wants me to have. It doesn't bother me that these huge marquees usually have nothing worth saying, or that people generally have radios in their cars and televisions in their home, which would be far more effective ways to reach people.
Mesayme Mesayme 9 years
yeah, I would think that people would become complacent and ignore the true alerts. Not to mention it seems as distracting as checking a text message.
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
If there are corporations who are willing to sponsor those boards, which means I might not have to pay as much in taxes, or my tax dollars can go to other equally important projects, then I say go for it, as long as the purpose of those signs isn't rendered ineffective.
outofhere outofhere 9 years
Not a cool idea at all.
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
Are they going to advertise on the Amber alert boards, or are they going to put up sponsored by signs around the board?
PiNkY-PiNk PiNkY-PiNk 9 years
this is such a bad idea. but of course, money is what makes the world go round, so, i think they're gonna end up doing it.
Frank-y-Ava Frank-y-Ava 9 years
Not cool.
verily verily 9 years
Steph hit the nail on the head. Adding advertising will make people ignore the signs. I read our signs. Last time I was on the highway the signs were telling us not to drive to Houston or Beaumont due to gas shortages.
Mykie7 Mykie7 9 years
That's a great point, and I forget that not everyone has pretty clear freeways like we have here. It's not hard to read them as you're driving UNLESS the road is congested. You are right about that.
bastylefilegirl bastylefilegirl 9 years
I don't purposefully ignore them but I just don't tend to look up and read them in detail I tend to watch traffic and pay attention to other drivers as well as myself. I tend to become aware of Amber Alerts when I personally feel they are appropriate and that's not in rush hour traffic on a congested freeway. I don't understand how you could be reading a sign that contains a license plate number, and sometimes a detail discription but not use the phone? A distraction is a distraction even it one may or may not have a positive result.
Mykie7 Mykie7 9 years
Bastyle, you are the first person I've heard say they don't pay attention to those. I don't understand how you could ignore them?
bastylefilegirl bastylefilegirl 9 years
I don't think we should have the signs period, and if they still have to exist then they should be ad free for effectiveness. BUT.... Devil's Advocate To be honest I never pay attention to the Amber Alert signs ever ( know I'm not alone), the only Amber Alert I pay attention to is the one that interrupts television programs, or the one during a newcast. So maybe just maybe Ads will get people who ignore Highway amber alerts to pay attentiong>
Mykie7 Mykie7 9 years
OMG dream, we agree ;) LOL Anyway, yeah, if we start seeing Ads on those signs, the likelihood that we'll start to ignore them overtime increases exponentially. It's like commercials, when was the last time people actually paid attention to commercials? I hate them and flip channels incessantly to avoid them.
dreamsugar dreamsugar 9 years
Step -- hit the nail on the head. When you see those signs it's like a heavy blow -- man a missing child. But to put ads up there that would dilute their effectiveness.
bastylefilegirl bastylefilegirl 9 years
No way! As a matter a fact if people can't talk on the phone and drive, and soon can't text in drive in my homestate why should they have any type of board even the Amber Alert one on the highway that isn't directly related to highway issues i.e. speed limit, cone zone etc.
CaterpillarGirl CaterpillarGirl 9 years
What a bad idea altogether. I get all the florida amber alerts via email.
yesteryear yesteryear 9 years
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