Billboards make a comeback three years after crackdown

World Day for Remembrance of Road Traffic Victims is observed on the third Sunday of every November, but because this year it coincided with the 40th anniversary of the November 17 student uprising against the military dictatorship in Greece, the Panhellenic Association SOS Road Traffic Crimes decided to postpone its planned events until the following Sunday, when it held an awareness-raising event in Syntagma Square in central Athens.

One of the key parts of the association’s campaign, which is to make Greece’s streets safer for drivers and pedestrians alike, is an initiative against billboard advertising. It is estimated that billboards flanking streets and often placed in locations where they block traffic signs pose a serious danger and distraction to motorists. In fact, a former mayor of Maroussi, a suburb in northern Athens, was convicted over the death of a 25-year-old motorist in 2005 who crashed into a billboard on a traffic island on Kifissias Avenue because the local official had allowed the thoroughfare to become inundated with outdoor advertising panels.

Campaigners against billboards have recently been concerned by the rising number of outdoor advertisements going up along roads in Athens and in other parts of Greece for a new television station.

On the official front, a government crackdown against dangerous advertising began in April 2010 with the launch of a website which was part of a campaign aimed at punishing companies and local authorities that placed billboards in dangerous locations and pulling down advertising panels that posed a traffic hazard. Billboards on Greece’s streets, and especially in Athens, did in fact begin disappearing in late 2010, while thanks to a donation by the Papastratos tobacco company, many frames were also torn down. However, the crisis stopped the drive in midtrack and many frames are still in place even though they don’t host any ads. One of the streets with the most ugly billboard frames is Athinon Avenue, where the ad for the new TV station has made a strong appearance.

Citizens have not been complacent in reacting to these first signs of a re-emergence of the problem. Other than reactions from the Panhellenic Association SOS Road Traffic Crimes, four MPs of the main leftist opposition SYRIZA party raised the issue in Parliament, prompting authorities to begin taking down the ads.

While campaigners are armed with an arsenal of laws to use when battling dangerous outdoor advertising, including a ruling from the Supreme Court forbidding billboards being erected on private property and along streets, the issue is often tossed about between different authorities like a hot potato.

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