DIGITAL billboards with changing images and video seen along many prominent thoroughfares are an indication of the advancement in advertising technology.
These billboards project infomercials to appeal to the masses but for many, the bright lights are a distraction.
For people with disabilities, such lights can trigger a reaction that is detrimental to their health.
Concerns have been raised over the flashing and bright images from these videos that can potentially trigger problems among those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and epilepsy.
Unexpected reactionNational Autism Society of Malaysia chairman Feilina Feisol said the digital billboards’ lights can negatively impact people with ASD.
“Ordinary billboards are not a problem but digital ones with videos and advertisements affect the autistic with sight sensory sensitivity.
“They can become overwhelmed as they cannot process the flashing lights and some of them will scream, close their eyes and roll on the floor.
“Usually, you will see people with ASD who are sensitive to such lights wearing sunglasses and even caps. They will pull the cap over their faces when nearing anything with bright lights.
“Their minds cannot process such lights well and it causes them to feel stressed,” said Feilina who has received complaints on billboards with flashing images from parents of autistic children with sight sensitivity.
Katherine Ho, whose son is autistic and epileptic, said she would distract him so he does not see the digital billboards when travelling to prevent triggers that may lead to seizures.
“We take precautions as advised by the doctor as my son’s sight sensitivity can trigger an epileptic attack.
“He is under medication but external factors such as bright flickering lights agitate him.
“I believe we need to be more sensitive,” said Ho who observed that some news channels would warn viewers before videos with flash photography are shown.
She said the family now plans their route at night to stay clear of roads with bright digital billboards.
“When nearing such billboards, I will divert my son by asking him to look for something in the car, drink water or just engage in conversation with him so he will not look at the videos,” said Ho.
Psychologist Grace Liew said such billboards would affect those with ASD worse because they are extra sensitive towards lights.
“They may blank out when they see flashing lights. Bright lights irritate them more. It would be better if the brightness could be reduced,” she said.
Permata Kurnia director Assoc Prof Dr Hasnah Toran said children with ASD, especially those with heightened sensory sensitivity, would close their eyes and ears when agitated.
“These advertisements are meant to be eye-catching and attract peoples’ attention.
“Sometimes not just visuals but also certain voices and music jingles will disturb them.
“We try to acclimatise children with such sensory conditions to their surroundings,” said Dr Hasnah who heads the government state-of-the-art centre for autism.
Non-profit organisation A Plus for Autism founder Dr E.J. Khew said digital billboards do not affect all persons with ASD in the same manner.
“It depends on each individual’s sensory processing ability. However, I have family members who have remarked that they find these billboards too bright,” he said.
Near mishaps for motoristsTaman Tun Dr Ismail Residents Association chairman Abdul Hafiz Abu Bakar said digital billboards on Jalan Damansara especially those close to traffic lights were a distraction to motorists.
“The bright lights from these videos can potentially be dangerous to motorists. I have received complaints from residents over this matter too.
“The ones along Jalan Damansara are among the most distracting as there are just too many of them,” said Abdul Hafiz.
SS20 Central Residents Association chairman N.K. Leong said such videos can be dangerous to motorists.
“Digital billboards can remain there but someone has to control the videos that are being displayed.
“The visuals switch rather fast from black to white and from dark to completely bright.
“This can cause motorists to shift their focus from the road,” said Leong.
Section 14 (Jalan 14/1 to 14/15) Residents Association chairman Selva Sugumaran suggested the authorities impose guidelines on the level of brightness allowed for such videos.
He also said the videos should be switched off after midnight.
Sook Yee, a mother of two, said she almost hit a kerb when driving in Kota Damansara.
“It was 6.30am and the advertisement on the billboard was flashing like a camera. It was so bright that I reacted to the light and swerved because it made me temporarily blind.
“I find such videos to be road hazards,” she said.
Motorist Y.C.Lee dislikes driving at night especially in areas with such billboards because of the lights.
“I hate having to see these lights especially those on the Damansara-Puchong Expressway (LDP).
“The one near SS2 and Kelana Jaya should be made less bright. It is extremely distracting to be driving down the flyover when a huge billboard playing fast moving images comes into view.
“I have to stay focused all the time,” said Lee.
S. Suhana said she almost met with an accident as she was distracted by a movie clip playing on a digital billboard along the Federal Highway.
“I saw my favourite movie star on the billboard and my attention was diverted from the road.
“I almost hit the car in front. Since that incident, I practise self-control and ignore the videos as I may not be so lucky next time,” said Suhana.
Guidelines neededA Public Works Department (JKR) spokesman said local councils were responsible for approving electronic billboards.
The spokesman said it was the respective local council’s responsibility to obtain public feedback and draw up guidelines.
“Peoples’ concerns should be considered when the guidelines are drawn up.
“In this case, all local councils should take note of the complaints and improve on the guidelines when required,” said the spokesman.
Petaling Jaya mayor Datuk Mohd Azizi Mohd Zain said he had received complaints over digital billboards and that the city council was still finalising guidelines on them.
He said the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) would in future request to see the content
before giving approvals for such videos.
“There are digital billboards that have an optical illusion of people stepping out of the billboard.
“This can shock motorists and it is dangerous.
“We have not finalised the guidelines for digital billboards but it will be done soon.
“We plan to limit the timing so the videos don’t run 24 hours a day. Residents have also complained of the distraction caused by these lights,” he said.