Florida Keys

Key West leaders want mobile advertising trucks to disappear

Police say it dangerously distracts drivers. Locals have complained that it’s obnoxious.

Now, city leaders want to ban it.

It’s a box truck that advertises local businesses — including Winn-Dixie, bars a local musician and a Duval Street strip club — in bright LED colors, with one big screen on each side and a smaller one on the back.

Ironically, it’s one Key West business that may soon be out of business.

The commission meets Tuesday, starting at 5 p.m. at City Hall, 1300 White St., with a final vote over the trucks on the agenda. Commissioners have already voted 7-0 to ban them after a first reading of the measure.

These mobile billboard trucks have been driving around Key West for months. Aaron Moore

The new law, sponsored by City Commissioner Jimmy Weekley, would also ban the LED advertising screens on surrounding waters. There aren’t any in Key West but the city has had inquiries about it, said Chief Assistant City Attorney Ron Ramsingh.

Police say that for drivers, the advertising trucks can affect night vision. And they’re distracting — like talking on a cell phone or texting.

“Pedestrians and motorists are distracted much like they would be on a cell phone,” said Capt. Randall Smith, at the commission’s June meeting. “Their attention leaves the road. Because the images are constantly changing, they tend to get caught in what’s the next advertisement. I’ve watched people walk across crosswalks and they’re turned and watching the billboard instead of watching traffic.”

Most people are aware of the dangers of trying to multitask while driving — research shows talking on the phone is as likely to lead to a wreck as being legally intoxicated — but most continue to do just that, and many other distracting things, an

Key West’s proposed ordinance is modeled after the one West Hollywood, Calif., came up with, which survived a legal challenge in 2008.

But there are specific exceptions for vehicles owned by businesses that are used for purposes beyond advertising, like beer trucks, taxicabs and pizza delivery cars.

A mobile billboard truck makes its way around Key West on a recent day in 2019. Aaron Moore

“All of those vehicles’ primary purpose is to deliver a product; not to display advertising,” Ramsingh wrote in a memo to the commission.

LavenirLed, the business behind the truck that started up earlier this year, was brought before the city’s code compliance special magistrate, but the judge ruled it wasn’t violating any rules.

“We never violated an ordinance,” said Yuneisi Canizares, of LavenirLed.

In fact, she said, the business checked with city officials before starting up.

“We bought the truck and brought it to the city,” said Canizares. “We hired a lawyer and we looked at the city codes. There wasn’t any law against this type of business. They said yes, go ahead and do it.”

But then the city code compliance officer began citing the business for violating various codes — such as off-premise canvassing. “We had to hire another lawyer,” Canizares said.

Now, LavenirLed could be put out of business. Canizares said the company will be represented at Tuesday’s meeting.