Billboards behind road deaths

Thousands of advertising billboards that have been illegally erected all over Athens are responsible for 12 percent of road deaths, according to data released yesterday. The data was presented by a group of lawyers, MPs, municipal officials and relatives of road victims that are lobbying for the removal of the billboards. The group said yesterday that a count by the Public Order Ministry in February 2006 found 6,050 illegal billboards placed along the country’s roads. Other estimates place the figure closer to 15,000 for Athens alone. Billboards, often featuring photos of provocatively dressed models, are blamed for road accidents as they draw the attention of drivers. The signs are also believed to pose a threat as car accident victims are often catapulted against their roadside metal structures. Lawyer Athanasios Tsiokos, who is suing the Greek state for the death of his son in a car accident caused by an illegal billboard, described the signs as ‘death traps.’ An Athens court has ruled that Tsiokos’s son was killed as a result of the billboard and that the state was obliged under international law to keep the streets free of such advertising panels. The amount of compensation has yet to be announced but Tsiokos is seeking damages of more than -14 million. Victoria Efthimiadou, head of the legal department at the Office for the Unification of Archaeological sites of Athens (EAXA) said that despite 5,500 illegal signs having been pulled down in the past, not one fine has been imposed. «Apart from the political will, we also need funds to remove the signs,» she said. The Municipality of Maroussi, northern Athens, said last week that it had started removing illegal billboards from its streets in a task expected to take more than 45 days. Similar action by municipalities in the past has resulted in municipal workers being physically attacked by advertising company employees trying to stop the clean-up operation. A number of municipalities have also allowed the illegal placement of billboards as a means of generating revenue.