An alarming sight greets drivers on a road near a school in British Columbia: a little girl chasing a big pink ball into the middle of the street.
The girl is an optical illusion – a 3-D teaching tool being described variously as “gruesome,” “innovative,” “noble,” “terrifying,” and “hologram.”
“It’s a decal, actually,” says David Dunne, Director of Road Safety for the BCAA Traffic Safety Foundation, the group that – with safety group Preventable – is responsible for the image, which is made of heat-treated plastic, and spread across the road.
“As you get it from the right perspective it appears as if it’s a 3-D image. It’s meant to get your attention, similar to a sign warning you that you’re about to enter a school zone. It’s a unique way to warn people to expect the unexpected. And it definitely works.”
Dunne says that speed cameras have been installed around the decal, to measure the decal’s effectiveness. Until then, Dune says he’s satisfied that the decal is working. “Anecdotally, from parents and from school administration, they’ve reported that drivers are more conscientious and drive more safely in that particular school zone,” Dunne says. (Incidentally, Dunne says that parents are the biggest speeders in school zones. He doesn’t know why.)
Hearing about the girl with the ball made us curious what other traffic-slowing devices are being employed, and if they are all terrifying. It there are lots, and they aren’t entirely scary.
Among our favorites: Nudity, bollards (whatever those are), fake speed bumps, trees, cardboard kids, tinted asphalt, bowls of water (?!), an angry orange barrel-man, special markings on the pavement, and, our favorite, raising the speed limit.
Any of these could work – so long as they’re surprising. As anyone who has read the terrific book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) knows, it’s seeing something unexpected that causes drivers to slow down. Aside from rubbernecking, which always slows traffic no matter how many bleeping times you’ve experienced it, once drivers are used to a particular phenomenon it’s just part of the unnoticed scenery and does not slow drivers down.
Meaning that all these innovations designed to get drivers to slow down – nude bikers, bowls of water, even scary 3-D girls in the middle of the street – will only work so long as they’re new. Something Dunne acknowledges – and the reason, he says, the 3-D girl will only be out on the street temporarily, though he hopes that slower, more careful driving near the school will continue past the girl’s removal.
“Constant vigilance is required,” says Dunne. “Stuff happens, in a split second.”