The colorful, captivating, and — police say — distracting LED mobile billboard trucks zooming around Key West have been officially banned by the city. At the July 16 city commission meeting, commissioners voted 4-0 (Commissioners Clayton Lopez and Gregory Davila were absent) to pass an ordinance that follows in the footsteps of ordinances passed in the cities of Honolulu and West Hollywood. The Key West language is modeled after the West Hollywood ordinance, and Assistant City Attorney Ron Ramsingh also included a preemptive clause.
“I included water-based mobile billboards in a proactive measure,” wrote Ramsingh in his executive summary, “The City of Miami Beach has been battling water-based mobile billboards recently and the City of Key West received an inquiry into establishing a water-based mobile billboard business in the last few years.” Visitors to Miami may have seen the shoreline littered with LED advertisements on boats, and KWPD Captain Randy Smith, a supporter of the ordinance, said he was “pleased the ordinance will curb the marine side as well,” expressing concerns that South and North Roosevelt could follow the way of Miami, had Ramsingh not included them.
Smith and other KWPD officers have said that since the images change, pedestrians and vehicle drivers watch them — instead of the road. Smith said: “It’s similar to looking at your phone; it’s distracted driving.” Neon signs with flashing lights are already not permitted, per city ordinance, in Old Town Key West, so this new ordinance follows suit. Smith has also been on alert for the mobile billboard this week: “Three times I’ve been beside or behind it in traffic,” he said, “and I’m watching people watch the billboard … on Duval Street, we have pedestrians not looking at crosswalks when they cross the street.”
The commission concurred that the roving advertisements are a driving distraction and safety hazard. While this is good news for the safety of motorists and pedestrians, myriad local businesses that use the advertising service are sure to miss the exposure. LavenirLed, the company that owns the mobile billboard truck in Key West, will also no longer be able to operate in the Key West market. At least there’s still good old-fashioned print advertising.