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3D drawing of child in road to improve traffic safety: Good or bad idea?

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on September 10th, 2010 at 9:14 am

It's just an illusion.
(Photo: Preventable.ca)

A non-profit organization in British Columbia that works to reduce preventable injuries has gotten a lot of attention (if all the emails and Tweets to me about it are any indication) for a new traffic safety campaign. The Community Against Preventable Injuries is placing 3D chalk drawing illusions of children in the road to raise awareness of speeding in school zones.

The drawings are an optical illusion made to startle people into thinking there might be an actual child chasing after a ball. A road sign adjacent to the drawing states, "You're probably not expecting a child to run into traffic."

Here's a video of what it looks like if you were driving down the street:

Young children are especially vulnerable to motor vehicle traffic because their depth perception and judgment is not yet fully developed. Many states, including Oregon, have special speed limit provisions around schools and stepped up enforcement to protect kids. It's clear this is an issue that needs innovative solutions; but is this a good one?

While it catches the eye, many of the comments I've read worry that after the first time rolling through, people will simply ignore it. Others have criticized the drawings because it may cause people to swerve and end up in a crash where real humans (not chalk drawings) are hurt. The folks at Preventable.ca counter those concerns by saying they will analyze and monitor traffic behavior around the drawings.

Since Portland is also a place that takes traffic safety around schools seriously, and we've got our share of creative, grass-roots activists that I could imagine getting inspired by a campaign like this, I'm curious what all of you think. Is this a good or bad idea?

Learn more at Preventable.ca.

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Comments
  • LoneHeckler September 10, 2010 at 9:29 am

    Sometimes small towns park an empty police cruiser on the side of the highway to slow traffic -- and it seems to be effective, even after people know it's a decoy. I can see the psychology at work here.

    Ah, but if one texting fool suddenly sees this and slams on their brakes or swerves...

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  • Adam September 10, 2010 at 9:44 am

    I'm wondering how long it will take for someone to not stop for this but instead swerve. Someone is going to swerve and hit something or run over a real person. This thing is a terrible idea.

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  • jeff September 10, 2010 at 9:50 am

    Completely bad idea. If I saw that driving, I would come to nearly a dead stop to make sure it wasn't a young girl.
    I'm not sure visual deception is a good tool to use on people driving a few tons of steel.

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  • Zyzzyx September 10, 2010 at 9:53 am

    How long until someone DOESN'T swerve for a real child in the street.

    "What? I thought it was one of those silly illusions, so I drove through it."

    Bad idea creating a bad habit.

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  • Malex September 10, 2010 at 9:54 am

    All I can think of is "The Boy who Cried Wolf."

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  • wsbob September 10, 2010 at 10:18 am

    Clever illusion, but this is a wrong use of cleverness. It does seem a bad idea.

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  • Spiffy September 10, 2010 at 10:19 am

    saw this on another forum and initially thought about sending it in here but realized it had nothing to do with bikes or Portland...

    it's a horrible idea for all the reasons people say it is...

    and it'll probably be full of black skid marks very soon...

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  • geezer September 10, 2010 at 10:26 am

    Really bad idea. Many of the comments at the preventable.ca site echo my first impression: (a) the first few times I see this, I'll be more likely to stomp on the brake, or swerve into another lane, than merely slow down (the intended effect). (b) after I get used to this I'll be less likely to stop if I see a real child in the street. It's called training...

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  • fredlf September 10, 2010 at 10:30 am

    I watched a kid run into traffic once, on Prescott near Grand. I started running towards her, but the first car that past was focused on getting to the green light before it changed and, miraculously, it missed her. The next car slowed and by then I was able to scoop her up.
    It was an eye-opening experience in several ways. It showed how quickly a dog-walk around the block can change to an emergency. And it showed how absolutely lethal our streets can be to the humans simply trying to live near them.
    I don't know if these drawings are a good way to impart those lessons or not, but for me, those were important lessons.

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  • Ross Williams September 10, 2010 at 10:35 am

    If you watch the video, its hard to imagine someone swerving to avoid the child. The illusion is broken long before that kind of urgent reaction would be warranted.

    As someone else pointed out with the police cars, even after people realize it is an illusion it will still cause them to slow down and pay attention. In fact, I think it would be more effective as a permanent illusion in school zones than as a temporary illusion that appeared and went away.

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  • Adam September 10, 2010 at 10:41 am

    Another thing, how costly is it to install then maintain? That complex of a drawing on the street can't be cheap. Think of around here in the winter, it would get destroyed every year. Why don't they save money and install something like, oh I don't know, a speed bump.

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  • Schrauf September 10, 2010 at 11:18 am

    I tend to agree with Ross - the traffic calming device is somewhat questionable, but if somebody swerves or skids to a stop, either they were going 45mph in a 25mph, or paying zero attention until the last instant. Both can happen, but not all that often. Seems worth several weeks or months of study...

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  • mabsf September 10, 2010 at 11:38 am

    So we are criticizing the drawing, but not the behavior that leads to it? If a driver has to swerve, he/she didn't pay attention enough or went to fast...
    ... and why swerving? How about just slowing down - that doesn't kill anybody!

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  • trail abuser September 10, 2010 at 11:43 am

    They need to change it to a cop. And the ball is not red enough.

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  • aljee September 10, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Fail.

    How about a cop mannequin with a radar gun? On the SIDE of the road.

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  • Aaron September 10, 2010 at 11:55 am

    This has actually been done. Not necessarily a manikin, but at least one (and there's probably copycats) person has built a cop car out of plywood on a rural road to discourage people from speeding. I'll see if I can find the link

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  • SkidMark September 10, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Swerving is evasive action. In case you are unable to stop in time, instead of plowing into the child you go around them. Slamming on your brakes is rarely the only answer to a situation.

    I agree with comments 3,4, and 5.

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  • JAT in Seattle September 10, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    I agree with the boy who cried wolf comment. Locally the SDOT has installed some pedestrian activated road-surface mounted flashing crosswalk indicators near the waterfront - one of them, however is set to flash continually and drivers have stopped even slowing down - even when pedestrians are present.

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  • Steve September 10, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    I agree with the concerns about swerving, but someone also mentioned the "crying wolf" scenario. What if someone thinks "its just another one of those optical illusions" and ignores a real child.

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  • matt picio September 10, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    Monumentally bad idea. The proper place for that is a billboard or a commercial, or the newspaper. We already have too many distractions on or next to the roadway, to the point where it saturates people's attention.

    mabsf (#13) - Jonathan asked for opinions, so yes, we are criticizing the drawing. No, it doesn't excuse the behavior, but this is like pouring gasoline on a fire - stop the gasoline from being poured first, then put the guy in jail who started the fire.

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  • trail abuser September 10, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    I don't know what world you guys live in, but a chalk drawing on a roadway doesn't look like a real child to me. Kids don't freeze like deer in headlights when they see a car. If anything, accustomed drivers, especially the teen variety, will speed up to try and "hit" the ghostly apparition.

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  • Vance Longwell September 10, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    "Young children are especially vulnerable to motor vehicle traffic because their depth perception and judgment is not yet fully developed."

    Which is why in a civilized society built upon the rule of law, that parents are responsible for their children's welfare, and not thousands of strangers.

    I wish to echo the oft mentioned desensitization-factor as being another reason this is a despicable idea too.

    You can teach your kids there are other people on the planet besides them, or you can leave it for me to do when they're adults, your choice.

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  • Roland September 10, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    Stop thinking of new & clever ways to protect the china, and kick the bull out of the shop.

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  • scotth September 10, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    bulls are surprisingly aware of their surroundings.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nk_zpMory-0

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  • Psyfalcon September 10, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    The video is really slow (seems like 10mph to me) so if a driver is going faster, they'll need to hit the brakes before the illusion brakes. If it is like a typical 25mph zone, I'd doubt there will be swerving, but there might be some sudden stops.

    And when someone goes through at 40, I do not want to be on the side of that road.

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  • Ross Williams September 10, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    "Which is why in a civilized society built upon the rule of law, that parents are responsible for their children's welfare, and not thousands of strangers."

    What law is that? As a driver, you are responsible for driving safely. If you hit a pedestrian, i.e. a small child, you are responsible. You, not their parents and not the child.

    If you have to swerve because of that chalk drawing then you were driving unsafely to begin with. Its not like the drawing suddenly springs out in front of the car like a small child chasing a ball. Its pretty clear you should have been able to stop safely. If you are startled by the drawing, you weren't paying attention to your driving.

    What the drawing does do is graphically remind people of the possibility a child would be there, rather than a sign that says "children at play", which is treated as just more visual clutter and usually ignored. Its precisely because this grabs attention that makes it work.

    And yeh, the real problem is that we value speed over safety. All you have to do is visit a campground to understand what speed is allowable if you really want the environment to be safe for anyone not enclosed in a ton of steel. Its under 15 mph.

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  • Vance Longwell September 10, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    Ross Williams #25 - Oh, sorry man. My bad. I was operating under the obviously erroneous assumption that Oregon State highways were explicitly purposed to facilitate the transportation of goods, services, and labor to market, as well as emergency response personnel. I did not realize that they are playgrounds for the children of parents who are convinced the world revolves around them.

    "What law is that? As a driver, you are responsible for driving safely. If you hit a pedestrian, i.e. a small child, you are responsible. You, not their parents and not the child."

    This is not true. That determination will be based upon a comprehensive investigation done by a small army of experts. In some cases, yes, the driver will be determined to be at-fault. In some, not. Apropos of absolutely nothing. Barely even worth acknowledging. Complete non-sequitur. And you're wrong, if some idiot's brat causes me to have an accident, me and half the insurance industry will promptly sue them into destitution.

    I'm not an oblivious moron. I know there are children in streets. So, I don't run over them. Further, I refuse to accept some one's infantile obeisance to their crotch-spawn end-up as some tax-payer funded foray into same said insanity.

    Said it once, guess I'll say it again. Discipline your children, or I will. Your choice.

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  • Ross Williams September 10, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    "That determination will be based upon a comprehensive investigation done by a small army of experts."

    If you run into a pedestrian that you could see was in the street from a block away, you are responsible. Period. The only way you aren't responsible is if they stepped in front of you when you were so close you were unable to stop.

    "I'm not an oblivious moron"

    You certainly fooled me.

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  • Johnnie Olivan September 10, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    -Bad Idea-

    I wonder how much time was spent to create such a detailed illusion?

    What a disappointment to see these on the ground before separated roadways(Netherlander Style Roadways)...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-AbPav5E5M&feature=related

    ...or would we prefer...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOkbz4tm324

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  • Red Five September 10, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    i will actually start speeding up for kids now.

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  • Vance Longwell September 10, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    I guess I shouldn't complain about being censored, at least you censored spare_wheel too. Sorry to get ya busted, spare, didn't know my mommy was watching.

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  • Dan September 11, 2010 at 7:28 pm

    Bad idea. Better idea: Ban gasoline.

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  • Paul Tay September 11, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    Even creepier: Dis dude risin' outta da pavement.

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  • Mixo September 12, 2010 at 8:16 am

    It seems to me like they could have accomplished much the same thing with far less controversy by installing a better choice of imagery, such as a very large pothole, or a road damage image. Im thinking something like Justin Beever does: http://www.rense.com/general67/street.htm

    It could even be something ridiculous like a giant butterfly, and would probably still have the effect of slowing people down - but only those unfamiliar with the intersection.

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  • malka September 12, 2010 at 9:13 am

    An illusion, a deception, a lie--never a good.

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  • Ross Williams September 12, 2010 at 10:01 am

    "It could even be something ridiculous like a giant butterfly, and would probably still have the effect of slowing people down - but only those unfamiliar with the intersection."

    No one who is paying attention is going to be fooled by a static picture that appears like a child in the street a block away and never moves.

    The point is not to "fool" or "deceive" anyone. Its to get their attention and remind them to be alert to the unexpected and the possible consequences of their failure to do so.

    Frankly, some of the complaints here seem to be that it might cause them to slow down "unnecessarily". Which is to say, some people don't want to be reminded that the risks they create are not just to themselves.

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  • Dustin September 12, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    I believe most people would risk swerving into parked cars, houses, front yards, etc.. to avoid hitting a little girl in the middle of the road.

    What happens when someone actually does swerve to miss this girl and wipe out your new car car you just bought, just to save the life of this painted girl.... or even worse, what if they swerve to miss this painted girl and accidently hit someone walking on the sidewalk.

    I think has the potential to do more bad than good.

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  • Ross Williams September 12, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    "What happens when someone actually does swerve to miss this girl"

    If someone swerves to avoid an object (imaginary or not) that has been clearly visible in the middle of the street from a block away, its their fault.

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  • Ross Williams September 12, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    I think the 3-D idea would work really well with a cyclist at the side of the road and a sign in the middle that says "Share the Road". Or "Leave 3 Feet" with arrow showing how far that is from the cyclist.

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  • Paul Johnson September 12, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    Fark rightfully gave this story the STUPID tag last week when they ran it. I predict one of these nonstandard markings causing an accident, resulting in a FAIL tag...

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  • jim September 13, 2010 at 6:40 am

    would this still work if they painted a drunk sleeping in the road? or a politician reaching out for a handshake?

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  • Paul Johnson September 13, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    I doubt it works with kids, given the poor quality of parenting in the pacific northwest resulting in some truly obnoxious children. I'm curious how many people speed up when they see these.

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