By Tim Miller, Florence
First I must thank all of the Fire Department volunteers for giving your time and energy to attend training sessions, be on-call and respond promptly to fires and medical emergencies. You have my utmost respect and appreciation.
Unfortunately, decisions by fire department heads can sometimes have unintended consequences. Recently I became quite dismayed to see an electronic reader board installed outside the Three Mile Fire Station near the Eastside Highway. Seeing the electronic billboard punctures the visual esthetics of the scenic drive and potentially makes it less safe to drive or cycle the narrow highway.
I appreciate that someone had the notion to save lives by programming the sign to say “buckle up” and “sending text messages while driving is dangerous” or something to that effect. I believe those are important messages. However, the electronic messages may defeat the purpose of safety due to the distractibility. The messages rotate and drivers naturally take their eyes off the road long enough to see what message comes up next.
A study of the dangers posed by an electronic sign along an interstate in Wisconsin concluded: “It is obvious that the variable message sign has had an effect on traffic, most notably in the increase of the side swipe crash rate.” A major study of driver inattention by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the U.S Dept. of Transportation found that any distraction of more than two seconds is a potential cause of crashes and near crashes. The National Billboard Association funded a study that found electronic billboards do not increase traffic accident rates. However, the Florida Department of Transportation’s official position is that it takes six seconds to comprehend the message on an electronic billboard, which is already three times the safe period for driver distraction.
The sign might make sense if it was selectively activated to warn of road hazards ahead or dangerous road conditions but it seems to display extraneous information 24/7. Most people, in my view, who travel the Eastside Highway don’t need or desire bright flashing electronic messages that deliver redundant and nonessential information on the current temperature and time. Additionally, I believe the electronic sign detracts from the natural beauty of the rural residential area and could actually make travel on that section of the narrow highway less safe for drivers and cyclists. I hope the Three Mile Fire Department Board and its Fire Chief might reconsider this faddish distraction and I hope other Rural Fire Departments do not consider following this example.