Note: This is not legal advice and meant for educational purposes. Please discuss with your attorney any questions you may have in regards to laws.
Mobile billboards or digital billboard trucks have gained a lot of traction off-late in the out-of-home-advertising sector.
Given the high levels of exposure such billboards bring without the heavy real estate costs and inflexibility involved with traditional billboards, and the fact that they can be positioned in almost any high-traffic zone without any additional cost related to the placement makes this the most in-demand option.
Despite the fact that most consumers and business owners have been enamoured by the potential of such mobile digitized billboards, local law makers however, have been averse to it for the most part, mainly owing to the lost revenues from fixed billboards along with the congestion related issues brought about by billboard trucks.
Over the last few years, there has been a number of legislations across various cities and towns, either banning mobile billboards outright or severely restricting their scope. In this post, we have analysed the implications of these laws, how they impact this industry and what you can expect in the future.
Generally speaking, it is not possible to completely outlaw mobile billboard advertising, especially since its protected under the First Amendment Freedom of Speech, so how exactly do these laws apply with the constitutional rights?
The California State Legislature modified the Vehicle Code between 2010 and 2012 to allow local municipalities to regulate and restrict mobile billboards and advertising.
As soon as these changes came into effect, various cities including Los Angeles, San Clarita, Loma Linda & others passed almost identical laws banning all forms of mobile billboards.
These laws were challenged by the industry in numerous courts citing the First Amendment, with the courts ultimately allowing cities to come up with rules to either regulate or prohibit such ads. This, however, does not say anything about such billboards located on private property, which is a loophole that most operators continue to exploit till this day.
The US Supreme Court has issued rulings that protect commercial speech, considering them almost on the same lines as personal expression. So, at this moment, the only course for any jurisdiction to limit mobile digital advertising is on public safety grounds.
The main reason cited by legislators for enacting such laws is that they’re a public safety hazard, often claiming that it blinds pedestrians and drivers to signs and notices, and prevents lights from Ambulances and other emergency service vehicles from getting through and alerting people on the streets, which despite being a genuine concern, is often really hard to prove.
That is why, it is widely accepted that its not mobile and digital billboards that are bad or outlawed, it is bad and inappropriate behaviour that is. Bad players who make use of bright obnoxious signs, or blast loud music in order to garner attention, they are the ones who end up ruining it for all.
So, the only pervading law at this moment is to be respectful of local sentiments and preferences, while being mindful of any threats or risks to public safety as a result of digital billboards. If you can manage to not garner too much attention, there shouldn’t be any problems.
There are currently only four states that have outright banned billboards – Alaska, Hawaii, Maine & Vermont, and it is no coincidence that they’re known for their unmatched natural beauty. The legislators of these states along with the local business owners are all well aware of the beauty of their unmarred landscape, and massive tourism and revenues this brings their states.
It’s worth noting however, that even in these states there is no strict enforcement of the ‘No Billboard’ law, small billboards that aren’t too flashy are allowed to stay, and in Alaska, the State legalized billboards that advertise tourism businesses and related activities.
There are numerous other states, cities and counties with unwritten laws giving impetus to the aesthetics and natural beauty of the land, and even though their may not be any strict enforcement from authorities, billboards may still face opposition from locals who realize the value of their land and its beauty.
In such areas, forcing billboards on people would only serve to further alienate people from your business and be detrimental to your brand value.
Its commonly believe that modern billboards actually took birth in New York City, which makes it hard to believe that there is a 100-year-old ordinance that bans mobile billboards throughout the city, a law that is albeit enforced very rarely, such as occasions of gridlocks or public safety issues.
Whenever city officials try to enforce this law, the operators of mobile trucks start resisting it to the fullest extent by requesting injunctions from the law and again fighting it based on their constitutional right to free-speech.
The law continues to exist on the books, but as usual, there is absolutely nothing stopping the million-dollar billboard trucks and mobile billboards industry in New York City. As long as a player doesn’t do something very outrageous that warrants the attention of the authorities, the industry continues to grow unabated.
Cities and towns can pass ordinances to restrict almost anything, as long as four out of the seven on a city council agree to it, they can choose the type of clothes you wear, the things you eat, you’re style of walking or basically any ridiculous ordinance that you can think off, but if its unconstitutional, there is no way they can enforce it.
As long as you respect the wishes and sentiments of the residents, nobody can or will use the law for something like mobile advertising, so its essential business owners keep this in mind.