Business signs in public right-of-ways on the side of the road are illegal along all state and federal highways and in many local jurisdictions. Outlaw signs distract drivers, interfere with traffic-signal visibility and clutter the scenery. Before putting temporary or permanent signs on public or private property visible from roadways check local codes and ordinances. Your zoning administrator can tell you how and where you can legally advertise your business, preventing fines and sign removal.
The flimsy placards you see on the side of the road, especially at high-traffic intersections, are known as “bandit signs.” These temporary signs have a typical lifespan of 24 to 72 hours before they are removed by zone enforcement officials, or stolen, defaced or destroyed by someone else.
If you’re caught posting business signs in a right-of-way, you might be ticketed. In Florida, for example, it’s a second-degree misdemeanor. Fines, up to several hundred dollars per sign per day, vary by county. Sign walkers -- people waving signs or wearing silly costumes or sandwich boards -- are also subject to state and local ordinances. In Minnesota, for instance, roadway soliciting is illegal. Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Rhode Island and Vermont ban all off-premise outdoor advertising.
Some communities use proactive strategies to curb the thousands of illegal roadside signs continually littering their landscapes. Businesses register to put up signs in regulated areas on certain days, agreeing to remove the signs after the promotion’s over. Locator signs, grand opening signs, seasonal agricultural signs and other special-event signs may be allowed. Phoenix's planning and development staff, for instance, issues temporary sign permits for a fee to businesses affected by public construction projects or other unique situations. Check with local officials to see if your area has a temporary-sign program.
Public property is generally anything between a utility pole and the shoulder of the roadway or, if there’s a fence, the property on the road side.To be certain, check with your local tax collector or registrar of deeds. Road commissions and state departments of transportation are other resources for sign-posting dos and don’ts.
Municipal sign regulations for private property, including land close to roads, outline details for size, height, lighting, design and placement. Shopping centers and other commercial developments may also have rules about what you can put up on the premises. Never post business signs on private property without the owner’s permission.
States offer opportunities for travel and tourism-related businesses to advertise on highways and other major trunk lines. Participating businesses pay several hundred dollars to display their logos; the state procures and erects the uniform signs for fuel, food, lodging and other key services. The trend is in keeping with the U.S. Highway Beautification Act of 1965, which aims to limit eyesores along federal roadways.
Billboards are a more expensive side-of-road option. The national rental average is a couple of thousand per month. Do-it-yourself cost depends on size, location and bells-and-whistles such as an electronic marquee. You’ll need to submit a building plan and secure permits.