Everything is relative. Sometimes we’re so distracted by certain things that we assume they’re the only cause of an issue — even a major issue. Take distracted driving, for example. When I mention distracted driving, the first thing you probably think of is someone talking or texting on his or her cell phone. Or maybe you think of someone trying to apply makeup in heavy traffic. You might even see someone reading a book on the way to work. But something fails to cross our minds: the enormous and ever-present use of billboards on every stretch of highway in Michigan.

Lately, laws such as Kelsey’s Law, signed by Gov. Rick Snyder on Jan. 8, target student drivers with a level one or two graduated license. The law bans cell phone use by people of this age group with the intent of keeping young drivers safe and undistracted. Studies from the University of Utah have shown that using a cell phone while driving — hands-free or not — is equivalent to the driver having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08 percent. With the rise of cell-phone use, more attention has been given to stopping people from using their phones on the road. While these new initiatives are important, the government refuses to look at other highly dangerous road distractions.

On a recent drive across Michigan, I noticed countless billboards with flashing lights, three-dimensional items and larger-than-life images. The sole purpose of billboards? To distract the driver. On the highway late at night, all it takes is a split-second glance at a billboard — a lawyer smiling oily, his phone number plastered below — and you’ve suddenly veered out of your lane, causing an accident.

It’s simply not fair that the government is cracking down on citizens for driving while making a business call (which is admittedly dangerous) but allow billboards to get bigger and bigger. I don’t remember seeing such extensive, fancy and distracting billboards when I was younger. The distractions are only getting worse as the technology to grab the driver’s attention gets better.

The reason the companies get away with it and the individual citizens using their cell phones don’t is because the set-up of our society promotes the unlimited freedom of the advertising companies. The government has little to no interest in stopping the advertisers from doing whatever they want. Multi-million dollar corporations exemplify this statement in everything they do from polluting the earth to sponsoring obnoxious billboards for revenue purposes. Our society promotes doing whatever is necessary to get ahead and make the most money. If that means distracting drivers to promote a product and putting people’s lives in danger, these companies will do it. The problem is that our government isn’t checking the advertisers’ actions.

We cannot ask companies to stop putting up billboards. Some of them are innocuous enough to ignore and businesses big and small use them. But it’s the principle of the matter. Why is it fair for billboards to exist to entertain and distract us while we have to put our cell phones away? The government needs to take a closer look at what distracts drivers. If they make laws prohibiting distracting activities, especially targeting students, they must follow this action across the board.

Maura Levine is an LSA sophomore.

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