How Many Things Are Wrong With L.A.’s Latest Traffic Safety Billboards?

Eyes on the Street: LAPD, Clear Channel and XXX are releasing new billboard against hit-and-run crimes. Image via Clear Channel
Yesterday, LAPD and Clear Channel released their new “Obey the Rules of the Road” billboard campaign. Images via Clear Channel

At a press event yesterday, the L.A. Police Department and Clear Channel revealed a series of billboard images aimed to, according to their press release, “prevent distracted driving and reduce the number of hit-and-run accidents in the Los Angeles area.”



With the help of social media commentary, we spotted five different ways that these billboards fail. Can you spot others? Our list is after the jump. 

1. Clunky graphic design

The design on these images look more like a 1990s lolcat meme than a real billboard. Can’t a gazillion-dollar advertising firm like Clear Channel afford to shell out a few bucks to make these designs look professional?

2. L.A. is still calling crashes “accidents”?

The press release for these billboards actually uses the contradiction in terms “hit-and-run accidents.” Can it ever be just an “accident” when a driver makes the deliberate choice to flee the scene? As in “oops, I left the scene.” Nope. As L.A. City Councilmember Mitch Englander and State Assemblymember Mike Gatto have stressed, hit-and-runs are not accidents but crimes.

Futhermore, the widespread use of the word “accident” is misleading and has been advised against by people pushing to end road violence. “Accident” implies that nobody is at fault, that car crashes are merely a mistake with no one to blame. This is not true. Generally, someone who was acting illegally or negligently causes a crash. Drivers make a choice to speed or to text; these are not accidents. As successful Vision Zero campaigns have shown, street design and enforcement priorities will deliberately prevent collisions and deaths.

3. Use of anti-safety spokesperson Anne-Marie Johnson 

The choice of spokesperson Anne-Marie Johnson on some of the billboards is a poor one. As L.A. City Bicycle Advisory Committee chair Jeff Jacobberger stated on Facebook:

LAPD using Anne-Marie Johnson as the face of its anti-hit-and-run campaign, when she is an outspoken opponent of traffic safety who recently appeared on KCRW to say that bike lanes make streets “no safer for bicyclists” and who uses her position on the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council to whip up hatred and hostility toward bicyclists, is like using Bill Cosby as the face of a campaign against sexual assault.

Johnson also directed and appears in LAPD’s series of cyclist- and pedestrian-shaming PSA videos earlier this year. Enjoy.

 4. Billboard companies trying to get good press while illegal billboards come under scrutiny

The timing of the campaign feels pretty cynical. LAPD and Clear Channel, per their joint press release, state that “with Halloween and trick-or-treating right around the corner, the campaign is a timely reminder for Angelenos to drive safely and watch for cyclists and pedestrians.”

It feels like a different kind of timely reminder. Perhaps billboard interests could be flexing their political connections as a reminder against city efforts to rein in illegal billboards. Last week, L.A.’s Planning Commission voted to uphold city sanctions against illegal billboards. The item will be before the full L.A. City Council soon. Shouldn’t LAPD be focused on curbing illegal activity like, say, according to KPCC nearly a thousand un-permitted billboards?

5. Clunky messaging

Lastly, the slogans on these billboard feel clunky. “Participate in life” and “the machine always wins.” Really. It’s as if someone did a focus group, and then held on to the lowest-scoring least effective results. Have we really sunk to the level asking drivers to “just stay”?

Readers – did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below.

  • That first one is a total disaster.

    “In an accident, just stay. You might save a life. Obey the rules of the road.”

    Okay, so the only rule you have to obey here is to not to flee AFTER hitting and seriously injuring someone? “Don’t leave someone to die! Be a pal and call 911 on that phone you were probably staring at before you rammed that unfortunate girl.” Is that what this billboard means?

    What about all the rules that were probably not obeyed before this moment?

    And that last one, ugh. “Participate in life?” Maybe that’s what the person thought she was doing when she was on Facebook liking a photo of her nephew or something.

  • Cicla Valley

    This should almost belong on Streetsblog LITE.

  • Asher Of LA

    #2: If the machine always wins, isn’t the natural conclusion to always get in a machine? That way, you’re always the winner, and that lifeless man sprawled on the road without a machine is the loser. HAVE MACHINE, WINNING!!!! Is not being in a machine disobedience of the rules of the road? Is that why cyclists are scofflaws?

    #3: I’d say talking to people is a big part of life. Isn’t our lady driver here ‘participating in life’ by texting? How do you even discern what this billboard is trying to say without getting distracted yourself? Is socializing a rule of the road now?

  • Jack Moreau

    I do not know who is in charge of hiring communications firms, but you can find better freelance graphic design off craigslist for probably 40$ per image.

  • Walt Arrrrr

    OHHH MY GAWD. Just when we think we are leaving the era of marginalizing people who don’t drive in Los Angeles, LAPD pulls us back.

    Janky as janky can be. I’d like to think some LAPD Cadet kid put this together on Windows 2000. But probably not. Even a high-schooler could have made better ads.

    Jacobberger nails it in regards to Anne-Marie Johnson’s participation. Seeing her on these ads is very disconcerting. She is not just some spokesperson, she has an agenda to prioritize car travel convenience at the cost of public safety. She is opposed to traffic calming on Rowena, opposed to Mobility Plan 2035, and thinks pedestrians and cyclists are to blame for being run over.

    Luckily, Clear Channel is donating only 10 billboards for this pathetic campaign. Whereas, Southern California Association of Governments has a $2.3M campaign from the 21st Century, geared for traffic safety and encourages active transportation with hundreds of billboards.

  • ubrayj02

    “Participate in life” and he’s making his hands like …

  • I was thinking of this as a LITE piece originally, but Joe had so many things to say about it…

  • Mehmet Berker

    If I was somewhat famous 20 years ago, could I also be the face of an LAPD safety campaign??

  • Alex Brideau III

    “Clunky” graphic design?

    Substituting the word “bad” or “non-existent” or “blasphemous” would be more accurate here. I don’t even know where to begin.

    Someone call Metro’s Design Studio for an emergency intervention.

  • Jerome Courchon

    PLEASE SOMEONE TELL ME WHO THE HELL IS ANN MARIE JOHNSON HAHAHAH She was a cast member on some show in the 80’s with Archie Bunker hahahahahah Her only thing keeping her occupied now is raging and browbeating the Silver Lake Neighborhood Clowncil. Thats all she has in life now.

  • Fred Zimmerman

    The ads are so difficult to understand that you have to really focus on them a long time to figure them out. Way to get drivers’ eyes off the road! Just as bad as those uninterpretable hanging banners in Brentwood that say “Safety on Sunset”.

  • Sine Metu

    #2 is a not-so-thinly-veiled threat that anyone who frequents comments sections sees quite often. In these people’s minds cyclists have zero notion that they will lose against a car and that they need to be hyper-subservient and never ever attempt to compete with cars or you will get what you DESERVE.

    I don’t know of any cyclist or pedestrian that isn’t fully aware of the dangers posed by cars. In fact, they have a far better understanding of this than any motorist alive. This attempt to make them aware that we are not as powerful and should step aside is concern-trolling at best and more likely childish threats.

    I mean, how dim-witted and obtuse do you have to be to not see this kind of rhetoric as a threat?

    Ann-Marie Johnson is a speed-obsessed nutter who cares not one whit for street safety.

    -J Williams

  • Mr Chapman

    Oh, I thought it meant “Man Driver VS Self-driving Car Machine” the machine always win in safety ratings, don’t lose your right to drive, try to keep up with the vigilance of machines?

  • neroden

    Now I begin to wonder if “the machine always wins” is actually a coded reference to trying to prevent people from challenging the Political Machine in LA. Probably too conspiracy-theory, but coming from the ultra-corrupt LAPD…

  • Jeff Jacobberger

    Upon more thoughtful consideration, my comparing Anne-Marie Johnson to Bill Cosby was inappropriate. It has been brought to my attention that, because Ms. Johnson and Mr. Cosby are African-American, the comment could be seen as having a racial component, which was certainly not my intent. Moreover, if the many allegations against Mr. Cosby are true, he has actively caused harm to others in a way that Ms. Johnson’s words and actions have not.

  • Matti Asgarian

    Ubray – I want you to know because of this gif, Now I’m FOLLOWING YOU!!! This is great. May the force be with you today, Ubray.


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