Highways authority signals end of road for roadside billboards

24-11-2010

After years of procrastination and foot dragging the Czech highways authority has announced the end of the road for advertising billboards along the country’s main routes. The move follows a vociferous campaign against the unsightly and dangerous ads.

After crossing the frontier, drivers realise they are in the Czech Republic when they are assaulted by massive roadside billboards for anything from cars and real estate to lawnmowers and nightclubs. At election times, political parties join the throng by publicising their wares.

The billboards, some legal and some not, mushroomed in the early 1990’s as the rush to embrace capitalism began. But the headlong rush has been followed by reflection, not just about the aesthetic aspects of unbridled commercialism. The death toll from cars crashing into the billboards, some breaking safety norms by being placed too near the roadside, and the less tangible distraction they represent started to be remarked upon. One authority reckoned that around 10 deaths a year could be blamed on the billboards.

After years of saying it was not possible, the state Road and Motorway Directorate, has now given into pressure and announced that it will phase out the roadside billboards. The first 440 of the 2,200 billboards should disappear during the first quarter of next year, these should include the most dangerous which flout safety norms and those which were never authorized in the first place.

Although the last of the 21 commercial deals signed with eight companies lasts until 2019, the authority says it will make every effort that billboards disappear in the next months and years.

The announcement is a triumph for the growing campaign against the billboards. Vojtěch Razima of the non-profit association Acta NON Verba, action not words, has been one of the biggest thorns in the side of the directorate, or ŘSD, over the last months.

“For us it is a big victory. It is the result of our campaign during the last year. We think this decision is a condition for these billboards disappearing from our highways. But we will watch the ŘSD and Czech government what they do to keep their promise.”

Mr. Razima says the decision to get rid of the billboards could have come a lot earlier. But there was a simple and compelling reason why it did not.

“The answer is one word, corruption. These deals, these agreements between the state and billboard providers is very good for the providers of billboards. They really got significant income from them but at the same time the state has just a few million crowns as income from these agreements.”

But while there is little doubt that the advertising revenues can be switched to other media there are still worries that illegal billboards could continue. It will also be up to regional authorities if they follow the lead of the motorway directorate and also ban billboards on secondary roads.

24-11-2010