Policy Issue Briefs

Staff Contact: Mike Hershey

This page features an alphabetical list of topics that are common in discussions about regulating billboards. What does the public think about billboards? How are billboards taxed? Does the First Amendment apply to advertising? The documents linked below define terms, provide background, and include research. Most of these documents are issue briefs that include industry talking points. These documents are intended as educational primers for OAAA members and are suitable as hand-out materials. 


Billboards are part of America’s culture and visual fabric. Federal, state and local laws regulate the size, lighting and spacing of billboards. American public opinion supports the idea that billboards should be regulated fairly, not banned. 

Debates about visual appeal are as old as art itself. But concerns about aesthetics should not be used as a ruse to block the promotion of legal products or stifle free expression that is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Download Issue Brief


Amortize means to extinguish, as in paying down the principal of a mortgage. Regarding billboards, amortization is a scheme for government to take private property without payment of just compensation to the owner. Typically, an amortization scheme sets an arbitrary deadline for removal of a billboard, such as five years, and then the billboard must be removed at the owner’s expense without compensation for the loss.

Additional Resources:
Compendium of State Just Compensation Laws

Download Issue Brief

Bans & Moratoria

Bans and moratoria are generally regarded as extreme measures. Billboard bans hurt advertisers and commerce; most billboard ads promote small, local businesses. Billboard advertisers say their sales losses would be significant without billboards.

Additional Resources:
A Study of Local Regulation of Outdoor Advertising in 271 US Jurisdictions
A Study of Local Regulation of Outdoor Advertising in 215 US Jurisdictions
An Assessment of the Highway Beautification Act’s Consistency with American Public Opinion
The Role of Billboards in the US Economy
Do States that Ban Billboards Have Increased Tourism and Improved Economies?

Download Issue Brief

Bonus Law Program

In 1958, Congress passed outdoor advertising control legislation commonly known as the Bonus Act, P.L. 85-381, as part of the Federal-Aid Highway Act. The Bonus Act provided an incentive to states to control outdoor advertising within 660 feet of the interstate highway system. States volunteering for the program would receive a bonus of one-half of one percent of the federal-aid highway construction costs on segments of Interstate highways controlling outdoor advertising. 

In 1965, this statute was replaced by the Highway Beautification Act. Reference to the Bonus Program is found in the United States Code [23 U.S.C. 131 (j)]. Bonus Program regulations promulgated by the Federal Highway Administration are found at 23 C.F.R. 750, Subpart A. Its provisions still exist via agreements with the states.


When government causes removal of a sign, the owner of the billboard and the landowner are required to receive just compensation. The fundamental law pertaining to billboard valuation is the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution: “nor shall private property be taken for public use, with just compensation.” Just compensation is measured by determining the market value based on a bona fide appraisal of the economic value of the lost property interest.

Additional Resources:
Condemnation of Billboard Interests
OAAA Taxes versus Taking Webinar

Content Control

The courts have affirmed constitutional protection of commercial speech, upholding the right to promote legal products (Lorillard Tobacco Co. v Reilly, United States Supreme Court, 2001). Outdoor advertising is a recognized medium of communication. Since 1999, outdoor advertising formats have not been used to promote cigarette brands, as part of a master settlement between tobacco manufacturers and state attorney generals. 

Additional Resources:
Cigar Advertising
OAAA Thought Leadership – CBD Advertising | OAAA Special Report: New FDA Rule Regulation
Vice Advertising Part 1 | Vice Advertising Part 2
Creativity: Regulations Webinar Part 1 | Creativity: Regulations Webinar Part 2

Digital Billboards

Hand painting on a sign became printed paper pasted on the board. Paper and paste is giving way to computer-generated images on plastic substrates. Today, the next generation of billboards is digital. These dynamic tools for advertisers and communities represent a small fraction of the total number of billboards in the United States.

Additional Resources:
Digital Billboard Issue Brief

Economic Impact/Jobs

Small business is the jobs engine of the economy. Over 6.5 million workers are employed by local advertisers who chose to place their messages on billboards. The adverse impact of losing billboards is immediate and significant. Billboard advertisers say they would lose 18 percent of sales without billboards. For some advertisers, out of home advertising is the only affordable, available means of mass communication with consumers. One of three out of home ads promote travel and tourism, a top employer in most states. 

Additional Resources:
The Local Economic Impact of the OOH Industry 2016 | The Local Economic Impact of the OOH Industry
Do States that Ban Billboards Have Increased Tourism and Improved Economies?
Role of Billboards in the US Economy | Business Perceptions of the Role of Billboards in the US Economy

Download Issue Brief


Exaction occurs when local government conditions its approval of land use on removal of billboards. This practice is fundamentally unfair, and denies the billboard owner just compensation in the event of billboard removal. In response, a growing number of states have adopted laws designed to protect property rights from exaction.

Download Issue Brief

Helping Law Enforcement

OAAA partners with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) to display AMBER Alerts on digital billboards nationwide. The partnership began in 2008 with 11 outdoor advertising companies and has expanded to include virtually all major digital billboard owners in the United States.


Illumination is fundamental to effective outdoor advertising, a round-the-clock means of mass communication. Unreasonable limits on lighting hurt the traveling public, advertisers, and public safety.

Overall, most night lighting is produced by sources other than billboards; research shows that billboard lights account for approximately 4 percent. Meanwhile, technology is enhancing lighting efficiency. Thousands of billboards once lit by four fixtures are switching to two lamps, reducing energy consumption and light spillage.

Additional Resources:
OAAA Digital Brightness Criteria
A Preliminary Estimation of the Impact of Billboard Lighting on Sky Glow
Comparison of DOT LED Traffic Signs and Digital Billboard Lighting

Download Issue Brief

Logo Signs and Tourist-oriented Directional Signs

Generally, federal policy prohibits advertising in the right-of-way. Exceptions are made for blue-backed signs near interchanges that provide information about services available near highways. These blue signs on the right-of-way are known as logo signs, because they feature brand logos. Federal policy allows logo signs to advertise gas, food, lodging, camping, attractions, and pharmacies. 

Meanwhile, brown tourist-oriented directional signs (TODS) are located along rural, non-freeway routes. They provide business identification and directional information for cultural, historical, and recreational activities as well as commercial establishments. 

Logo signs and TODS supplement outdoor advertising in providing information to the traveling public. 

Download Issue Brief

Noise Barriers

Noise barriers are a common feature of roadway design. If a noise barrier is erected to obscure billboard visibility, then billboards should be raised to preserve line of sight. There are no federal criteria or restrictions concerning billboard height. This is a state or local matter and several states have specific authority to increase billboard height (CA, LA, NV, UT). 

Additional Resources:
FHWA Guidance on the Adjusting the Height of Nonconforming Signs

Download Issue Brief

Nonconforming Signs

In the broader context of real estate and zoning regulations, nonconforming uses are common. Nonconforming billboards are legal, but do not conform to land-use rules that have changed.

The federal Highway Beautification Act (HBA) delegates to states to establish standards for maintenance, repair, and relocation. Therefore, state standards vary. In 1992, Congress clarified that states may use federal highway funds to remove nonconforming billboards, but are under no federal obligation to do so. As a practical matter, states choose not to spend their resources for this purpose. 

Additional Resources:
FHWA Guidance on the Adjusting the Height of Nonconforming Signs
FHWA Guidance on Destroyed Sign Criteria

Download Issue Brief

Permits and Fees

Typically, billboard operators pay fees for permits and additional fees to renew permits. The public policy rationale for setting the level of fees is for the regulated class to pay for the costs of government regulation. Toward that end, the outdoor advertising industry supports reasonable fees. However, excessive fees that generate more than the cost to administer regulations are taxes disguised as fees.

Additional Resources:
State Permit Fees

Download Issue Brief

Political Advertising

Outdoor advertising is an increasingly relevant communications medium, including delivering political messages. State regulations typically require political ads to include legible disclosure of who is paying for the message. Buyers of political advertising are attracted to outdoor advertising for its ability to create buzz, to brand candidates and slogans, and to target audiences.

Additional Resources:
State Contribution and Disclosure Information

Download Issue Brief

Prescription Drug Advertising

To protect consumers, federal law regulates advertising of prescription drugs. The Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act prohibits false claims and calls for a fair balance between information about effectiveness of drugs and risks. The federal enforcement agency is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The outdoor medium is used to advertise prescription drugs, in compliance with federal regulations.

Property Values

A comprehensive study of thousands of parcels in the county surrounding Tampa, FL, showed that parcels with billboards are more valuable that neighboring parcels. Billboard leases provide additional income for landowners, enhancing property values.

Additional Resources:

Outdoor Advertising Local Economic Impact Tampa Study
2013 Tampa Study
Economic and Fiscal Impact of the Billboard Industry in Philadelphia (April, 2012)
Economic Impact of Billboard Locations on Property Values in Philadelphia (April, 2012)

Download Issue Brief

Public Opinion

The outdoor advertising industry has monitored public opinion toward billboards for over 25 years. The following polls, taken by various independent research groups show that Americans like billboards, believe they promote business, and are useful to drivers.

Additional Resources:
An Assessment of the Highway Beautification Act’s Consistency with American Public Opinion
Arbitron LA Billboard Study
Arbitron Cleveland Digital Billboard Study
Mediagenic Digital Billboard Survey 2011
Mediagenic Digital Billboard Survey 2012

Download Issue Brief

Scenic Byways

The goal of Scenic Byway designations is to protect scenic areas and to promote travel and tourism by attracting visitors to these areas. The goal is not an absolute ban on billboards, because federal policy allows billboards in certain segments of Scenic Byways that are commercial-industrial. Billboards in these business areas along Scenic Byways complement the goal of attracting travelers to scenic locations. 

Download Issue Brief


Outdoor advertising signs are governed by restrictions set forth in federal/state agreements and/or codified in state statutes or administrative regulations adopted by each state. The spacing requirements included in federal/state agreements vary between the states. A majority of the agreements require at least 500 foot spacing on the interstate, 300 feet outside cities, and 100 feet inside cities. Furthermore, spacing requirements can vary according to road classification. Accordingly, it is important to review each state’s statutes and regulations to determine the applicable sign spacing requirements.

Additional Resources:

State Spacing Matrix
FHWA letter to Sen. David Vitter

Download Issue Brief


The public-funding crisis has led many state and local legislators across the country to search for new revenue streams as traditional tax collections have declined. When faced with the alternatives of angering voters by raising taxes, angering voters by cutting services, or the risks associated with taxing billboards, many taxing authorities see billboards as an easy target.  The information contained on the page below outlines industry message points, provides supporting materials, and includes leave behinds designed to drive home the most important messages points associated with taxing billboards.

Download Issue Brief


The travel-tourism industry is a cornerstone of the U.S. economy. One out of 18 Americans in the civilian work force is employed due to travel spending. In most states, travel-tourism ranks first, second or third as the top employer. Among the diverse spectrum of businesses that use outdoor advertising, the hospitality sector buys the most outdoor ads (one third of the total).

In a highly mobile society, outdoor advertising provides useful information to motorists and helps travelers reach their destinations. Most billboard ads promote local business, and most of those businesses are considered “small business.” Billboard advertisers say the loss of billboards causes an immediate, significant loss of sales.

Download Issue Brief

Traffic Safety

Research shows that billboards — even the most attention-getting billboards — are not related to accidents. The presence of billboards does not affect motorists’ behavior, such as changing lanes or change speed.

New technology enables billboard copy to change via computer. Known as digital billboards, these signs display static messages, typically for six or eight seconds. State and local governments have reviewed accident records for roadways near digital billboards; they do not cite traffic safety problems associated with digital billboards. Likewise, an engineering analysis of three years of accident data in the Cleveland, OH, area showed no statistical relationship between digital billboards and accidents. A separate study of drivers in the same area said digital billboards are safety neutral.

Additional Resources:
Driving Performance in the Presence and Absence of Billboards
Digital Traffic Safety Research

Download Issue Brief

Vegetation Control

The outdoor advertising industry supports responsible state regulations in order to conduct selective pruning and trimming as part of state highway landscaping and maintenance programs. 

Vegetation control is a common, longstanding practice along roadways, for the sake of safety and visibility. Using widely accepted practices, utilities routinely trim vegetation so power lines can be maintained.

Additional Resources:
State Vegetation Control Program Fees & Clear Zone Chart
Vegetation Video

Download Issue Brief


The Highway Beautification Act (HBA) of 1965 was designed to regulate billboards, not eliminate them. The act said billboards belong in commercial and industrial (C & I) areas (where business activity occurs). Some C&I areas are zoned and others are unzoned. The HBA allows billboards in both zoned and in unzoned areas. 

Download Issue Brief