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Should IC taxis be allowed to have flashing ads on their roofs?

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | FEBRUARY 01, 2010 7:30 AM

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YES

On the docket for the Iowa City City Council’s Tuesday meeting is an interesting inquiry: Five Stars Taxi is asking the council for permission to place electronic advertisements on the top of its vehicles.

The city, however, is concerned such a move would cause confusion in distinguishing taxis from emergency vehicles. The city’s perturbation is unnecessary.

Honestly, if a driver or pedestrian mistook a taxi’s advertisement for a police car or ambulance, the company would in no way be at fault. It’s not the council’s explicit duty to protect the eyesight — or recognition abilities — of citizens.

Also, an ordinance banning electronic advertisements connotes a lack of respect for free-enterprise marketing among local businesses. It’s a tough market these days, and businesses must be given every opportunity to extend profit-making strategies to new outlets.

The council’s crux disagreement with Five Stars’ plan is that state law prohibits “flashing lights” on vehicles such as taxis; but there is no definition for “flashing lights.” In addition, Iowa statute says nothing in regards to prohibiting scrolling messages.

Why should the council shut down the cab company’s proposal when there’s no mention of explicitly malicious intent to display flashing lights? As long as the cabs aren’t flashing distracting messages, let them pursue their new advertising ideas. No harm will come of it.

If anything, an ordinance shooting down such advertisements would likely be passed off in the future as a reason to prevent disagreeable, commercially oriented aesthetics in the community. And the utopian dreams of a few community members should not outweigh the unalienable freedom of promoting one’s enterprise goals — especially in the current economic state.

Don’t worry, Dubuque Street is in no danger of becoming Times Square.

— by Michael Dale-Stein

NO

The safety of Iowa City residents is of the utmost importance to the City Council.

Thus, when the councilors wish to block taxis from displaying electronic signs that flash lights, they are doing so because the risk does outweigh the benefits of such a proposal.

An Iowa City taxi company’s ability to advertise on top of its cars with flashing lights would not meet safety standards. Flashing lights on public-safety vehicles has long been the method of choice for designating important government vehicles.

Allowing taxis the same function would open up the possibility for confusion and accidents, two scenarios the City Council just cannot support. Granted, mistaking an ambulance for a taxi cab is unusual. But we cannot assume the best and neglect the possible.

Cabs have long had ads affixed to their roofs, and that does not need to change in any way. But putting flashing lights on top of a vehicle could do more damage than good when establishing safety among drivers.

For example, a driver is moving down Clinton Street and comes across a taxi with a bright flashing light. Obviously distracted, the driver makes a wrong move and causes an accident, causing damage to either a person or property.

This situation may be farfetched to those individuals who can concretely distinguish between these two types of vehicles. However, given the current state of driving awareness — i.e. texting, talking on cell phones — it is not ridiculous to think this situation could occur.

Cabs provide an important function of safety to our citizens, allowing Iowa City residents to travel when impaired. But any embellishment to that notion, such as adding distracting advertisements, is superfluous and possibly detrimental to safe driving practices.

Because of these reasons, the City Council should pass a ban on flashing signs on taxi cabs.

— by Michael Davis


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