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.


Penetrating the Myth of L.A.’s Safety

At City Watch and his personal blog Soap Box, Stephen Box punched an SUV sized hole in the Mayor and Police Chief Charlie Beck’s claim that the City of Los Angeles has become the “second safest big city in America, after New York.”  Box’s contention is that because the city assumes that most traffic crashes […]