Canada's speed bump optical illusion

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It's back to school time and suddenly there are lots of kids crossing the streets near schools. One of the perennial challenges for school officials, parents and local police is how to get drivers to slow down when driving by schools. Well, a city in British Columbia has come up with a tech solution that is a bit unusual. It's a speed bump that creates a 3-D version of a little girl chasing a ball.

MARCO WERMAN: It's back to school time. Suddenly there are lots of kids on the sidewalks and crossing the streets near schools. One of the perennial challenges for school officials, parents and local police is how to get drivers to slow down when driving by schools. Well, the city of West Vancouver, British Columbia has come up with a tech solution that sounds, well, kind of creepy. It's a virtual speed bump that generates a 3D version of a little girl chasing a ball. As the vehicle approaches, the image of the girl and ball appear to the oncoming driver. When the car goes over the speed bump, the 3D image fades back into the road. The idea is to jolt the driver into slowing down. David Dunne is behind the idea of the 3D image. He's the Director of Traffic Safety for the British Columbia Automobile Association Traffic Safety Foundation. David, is the way I described this essentially how the thing works?

DAVID DUNNE: The description of it as a speed bump is not really quite accurate. It's not a bump, just an image that's on the road.

WERMAN: So, the image is always there or does the driver actually trigger this thing to kind of like arise or pop out or??

DUNNE: Yeah, the image is always there. It's actually just an optical illusion. It's actually affixed to the road. It's a heat treated type of method. It would appear as though just that it was painted on the road, like a crosswalk would be or any other kind of road markings would be on the road. It gradually appears in front of the driver and then recedes. There's no mechanical trigger or anything of that nature. It's just an illusion. The image is equivalent to a cartoon as compared to a photograph. So if a photograph would represent a real person, this is more the nature of a cartoon type of image. So it's not a startling image at all. It's not meant to shock or jolt the driver. It's more so to alert the driver that there are things in their environment that are unexpected.

WERMAN: It sounds like an innovative solution to an age-old problem, but isn't the problem with the solution that it will jolt drivers and end up by being hazardous?

DUNNE: This is in an environment that is a very controlled environment. It's in a school zone and so in Canada that means the 30 kilometer zone. So speeds are already reduced. There is a crosswalk immediately in front of the image. There's a four-way stop immediately behind it. Of course, there's a physical school and a playground directly around the image as well. So there's lots of visual cues. In addition, when we put the installation in, we put additional signage up to forewarn drivers to expect the unexpected.

WERMAN: Has this 3D virtual speed bump idea been tried anywhere else or is West Vancouver the first?

DUNNE: To our knowledge, it's the first time it's been used in this application. It was first seen as street art and the idea was then adapted for this traffic safety environment. And we'll see how it goes. It's been installed for a week and we'll do a debriefing after the fact with the police and the engineering department and we'll see what the results have been.

WERMAN: I could imagine a senior citizen with a heart condition sees this 3D image and then they panic and crash. Are you worried about that?

DUNNE: Well, again, the image is such that when you see the effect in real time it's not that startling an image. It's like a marking that's on a road indicating direction for traffic and that sort of thing. It's not an actual girl clearly. It's not even a photograph of a girl. It is more of a cartoony type of depiction of a girl. So, there's no concern that somebody with a heart condition or those types of conditions would react in an unintended way to this kind of image. It is very apparent from the first sighting of it that it's not an actual person. There's no chance that somebody would misinterpret what the image was.

WERMAN: Are child fatalities near school the big problem in British Columbia?

DUNNE: No more so than in any other place. What we say is the potential for child fatalities and serious injuries. We know that September and October we see a spike in pedestrian injuries and fatalities and most of those occur in marked crosswalks where pedestrians have a greater sense of confidence oftentimes, an over inflated sense of confidence, because they are in a crosswalk, but yet drivers may not be aware of them. We also see repeated erratic driving behavior. Mostly parents are the offenders when it comes to that sort of driving behavior. Dropping kids off where they shouldn't. Clearly there's usually marked signs to indicate that there's no parking. The parents ignore them. Oftentimes people speed through school zones. So I don't think our situation in British Columbian or in West Vancouver or at this particular school is unique. I think you talk to a school administrator at any jurisdiction and you're going to find the same type of general problems with driving and safety around schools.

WERMAN: David Dunne, director of Traffic Safety for the British Columbia Automobile Association Traffic Safety Foundation. He's piloting the use of a 3D image of a child chasing after a ball as a way to get drivers to slow down when they drive by schools. David, thanks very much for speaking with us.

DUNNE: My pleasure.

WERMAN: Still perplexed by this image of the girl and ball? Then come to TheWorld.org. You can see a photo of how the image looks to a driver.

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