Billboard rules
New county rules are anti-ugly
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

New limitations on flashing and animated signs in the unincorporated areas of Salt Lake County are not anti-business. They are anti-ugly.

They are also pro-citizen, pro-traffic safety and, even putting the most cynical spin on it, a move to prove that county government is indeed useful and relevant to the residents of Millcreek Township. That's the area that just last month voted down a proposal to form another city, rejecting the claim that the Salt Lake County Council and government were not sufficiently responsive to the needs and wants of the unincorporated, but highly urbanized, area.

Last week, the County Council voted 6-1 to impose a new set of rules governing the appearance of the increasing number of electronic signs — called "electronic message centers" — found along many streets and highways. While existing signs will be grandfathered in until they are replaced, new signs in the county-governed territories will be limited in how often they can change messages and how bright and flashy their animated versions can be.

The rules were recommended by several of the area's community councils, including Millcreek's. The members of those panels carried to the county the belief that the signs were popping up in commercial areas in such large numbers as to be not only annoying, but dangerous.

The hope is that by requiring that all future electronic signs hold each message in place for at least four seconds, then wait at least three seconds before displaying the next message, the visual pollution will be reduced. Such signs will still allow business owners to offer more than one message to passers-by, but require them to do so in a way that will not be so dizzyingly distracting to drivers.

Drivers already have enough to contend with without being confronted by an ever-more-glittery array of "Eat here" signs. In addition to all the things that have distracted drivers since the days of Henry Ford — children in the back seat, fatigue, missed turns — 21st century motorists are all too often dealing with their own personal "electronic message centers" — e.g., cellphones.

As flashing and dancing signs become more common, and more elaborate, advertisers in an unregulated atmosphere will be forced into an arms race. In order to be visible to passing drivers, each sign would have to be even brighter, even higher, even more obnoxious than all the others, just to have a chance of being seen.

Rules such as those just approved in the unincorporated areas of Salt Lake County will do much to defuse that spiral of ugliness, and help drivers keep their eyes on the road.