Friday Five — Signs of the Times

Friday, June 8, 2012 — Ohio Governor John Kasich signed a ban on texting while driving on June 1, but the regulations are still some of the most lenient in the country. Ohio is the 39th state to issue such a ban. In other states, all cell phone use while driving is considered a primary offense. However, in Ohio, only teen drivers can be cited primarily for the use of any electronics at the wheel. Adults can still use their phones to call, type in numbers, or check for directions and can only be issued a fine if they are pulled over for another offense. While any ban is a step in the right direction for safer roads, Ohio’s lenient laws will make it difficult for law enforcement to prosecute the guilty. Some counties have stricter cell phone laws which will not be affected by this statewide ban.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is the recipient of controversial electronic sign messages. The mayor of Piscataway used the signs to protest Christie’s policy on Energy Money tax, which has traditionally been returned to the cities’ budgets.

On Wednesday, June 6, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was greeted in Piscataway by numerous electronic signs, all with messages ridiculing Christie’s decision not to return Energy Tax Receipt money to the cities of New Jersey. Traditionally, this money has helped bolster their budgets, and its absence is being felt. In addition, Christie has implemented a 2% tax cap, prohibiting towns from raising their property taxes and further injuring their budgets. Christie’s numerous spending cuts have been met with outrage and concern from the counties.

The signs in question have messages reading “Welcome to P[iscata]-way Governor… Please return to me 2.4 mil. In energy money back to taxpayers” and “Come back soon Gov. with energy money in hand.” While the signs echo many residents’ and officials’ opinions, the NJ Department of Transportation says that Piscataway Mayor Brian Wahler used the signs illegally. Electronic signs are regulated by the state for emergency purposes such as accidents and construction. While Wahler dismisses any claims he acted unlawfully, a detailed manual of the signs from the Department of Transportation outlines these rules extensively. When protesting political dishonesty or unlawfulness, it is quite important to portray yourself in the most lawful light, a fact Mayor Wahler may have overlooked.

Lamar is the largest owner of nationwide electronic billboards. (via

Some advertisers are arguing that digital signs are the new wave of marketing, replacing traditional billboards by providing multiple advertisers road time. They also give significantly more multimedia output, making them potentially more eye-catching and memorable. Massachusetts has been revising rules on billboards to convert them to the electronic format. As of now, digital billboards have largely been confined to Boston, but these regulations will expand their reach to other areas. While many support this change, including prominent non-profits like the Girl Scouts, who want to capitalize on the required 25 hours a month of required public service announcements, those against the new billboards say that they are a landscape eyesore.

On the more extreme end, lobbyists hoping to ban all electronic billboards have been popping up in the South. Spanish Fort, Alabama, just set a public hearing to discuss limiting all distracting billboards, especially electronic ones. This ban was proposed in the hopes that it will keep drivers focused on the road. The hearing is scheduled for July 2 and will pave the way for future initiatives aimed at combatting distracted driving.

Ohio became the 39th state to issue a ban on texting while driving, though it is still not considered a primary offense for adult drivers. Some counties enforce texting bans for drivers even when it is not the law in the area. (sign via

Companies at the forefront of banning electronic usage set the precedent for legislative moves. Oil companies began this trend in the early 2000s, realizing the danger that distracted driving posed for their cargo and their employees. The cost of a collision or accident can rise with dangerous cargo, so all electronics including hands-free devices were banned by Shell Oil in 2005. Other nation-wide businesses followed suit with Coca-Cola and UPS also prohibiting electronic use by their drivers.

As states continue to pass laws banning texting and varying limits on hands-free devices, some companies dispute the claim that hands-free devices can cause distracted driving. The National Transportation Safety Board fully supports banning all cellphone usage while driving, and many studies show convincing evidence that any type of distracted driving is dangerous regardless of hand use.


Sitting in traffic jams and searching for parking spaces are a daily part of many commuters’ lives, but Beijing takes these struggles to a new extreme. Faced with an unprecedented increase in automobile traffic, the city’s infrastructure is not capable of handling the sheer number of cars. Parking spaces are valuable real estate, with spaces in a garage often costing more than 200,000 yuan, equivalent to about $31,000. Often the price of the space outweighs the cost of the car. Then, of course, there’s the issue of traffic. Attempt to drive a short distance during rush hour traffic, and the time it takes might multiply to five times your expected travel time.

The main issue is that Beijing is simply not equipped to handle this number of cars. There is no plan for storing them or allowing them an easy travel time. In older districts, fights break out over parking, and people often park on their own (or other people’s) lawns. Counterfeit parking attendants enforce arbitrary parking fees in places where parking is not regulated, causing even more problems to arise. While the government is writing laws to regulate parking, they encourage their residents to take public transport and ease the roads.

– K. Howitt