Signs: Digital and Electronic Sign Regulation

By their nature, signs and billboards are intended to attract attention, including the attention of vehicle drivers. The effects of signs and billboards on safety, particularly the safety of drivers, passengers, pedestrians and cyclists, as well as the effects of these billboards on nearby residents and businesses, are valid reasons for controlling their location and size. In addition to safety, public welfare and community character are also valid reasons for regulating signs. A municipality can regulate signs visible to the public through its zoning ordinance, using reasonable and objective standards that protect the public's health, safety, welfare, and community character.

Digital signs and electronic message centers (EMCs), sometimes called light-emitting diode (LED) signs, can potentially affect public safety, welfare and community character to a greater extent than other types of signs. Digital signs and EMCs are capable of displaying words, symbols, figures or images that can be electronically changed by remote or automatic means and are distinct from conventional "manual-change copy" signs that do not change their message except through physical replacement.

Characteristics of Digital Signs and EMCs

Digital signs and EMCs have advantages over conventional manual-change copy signs because the LEDs have a longer service life, do not require on-site labor to display a new message, and offer multiple messages within the same sign area. Many advertisements can be sold using the same physical space.

These signs are forms of communication that are constitutionally protected as free speech. However, municipalities have received complaints from drivers and residents because some digital signs and EMCs appear to be too bright, too large, too intrusive, and are thought to cause driver distraction. This eTool provides an overview of concepts and suggested regulations that are intended to allow digital signs and EMCs in appropriate locations while ensuring that public safety, welfare and community concerns are addressed.


digital signsThe municipal regulation of digital signs and EMCs can provide the following benefits:


The following limitations may be associated with design considerations for digital signs and EMCs.

How to Use this eTool

To ensure that regulations relating to digital signs are effective, the municipality should:

Resources and References

Sign Ordinance Examples

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