Optical Illusion tricks drivers into Slowing Down

The origin of the zebra-crossing has never been verified, but it is purported that it was the brainchild of one James Callaghan who, back i...

The origin of the zebra-crossing has never been verified, but it is purported that it was the brainchild of one James Callaghan who, back in 1948, was thinking up ideas for pedestrian crossings while visiting the UK Transport Research Laboratory. In the year that followed, 1000 test crossings were painted around the UK with a glaring difference from the white lines we are used to seeing today – they were in blue and yellow. Someone or some people soon realised that white lines were more visible against the black asphalt, and the zebra-crossing as we know it became ubiquitous in 1951; the most famous one being, of course, the one on Abbey Road featured in The Beatles’ album cover, which has become a bona fide tourist attraction in its own right, attracting fans who want to recreate the iconic image. 

That being said, the effectiveness of zebra-crossings in slowing down vehicles is debatable. Where we come from (Malaysia), they are considered by motorists as mere suggestion, rather than the law of the road, and are often even completely ignored. In recent years, puffin- and pelican-crossings have replaced zebra-crossings; though more effective, they are also more difficult and expensive to maintain.

Perhaps this is the reason why artists, Saumya Pandya Thakkar and Shakuntala Pandya, from Ahmedabad in East India, is attempting a novel solution in their country in encouraging vehicles to slow down and stop for pedestrians, even at the absence of a red light. The mother and daughter team paint 3D zebra-crossing onto the road to deceive drivers’ eyes into seeing obstructions on the road ahead, tricking them to slow down. The artists said that the lines become three-dimensional at a distance far enough to not cause panicked braking, and fleeting yet perceptible enough that it is not distracting yet effective. 

The country’s Minister of Road Transport tweeted a picture of one of the trial markings, with the caption: "We are trying out 3D paintings used as virtual speed breakers to avoid unnecessary requirements of speed breakers." According to the Ahmedabad road authority, the concept was also tested at the Ahmedabad-Mehsana Highway and was found to be successful. 

Using anamorphic “art” as a speed breaker is, however, not that new an idea. The same strategy has been employed in Taizhou and Xingsha, China, some eight years ago, to what local reports make out to be a great success – cyclists and motorists claim they cannot help but slow down, and traffic policemen enthuse that passers-by tend to use the 3D markings to cross the road and drivers actually give way. 

It all sounds well and good, but we wonder what happens when the novelty wears off, and motorists become accustomed to the 3D effect. Would they revert to their old ways of zooming on while pedestrians attempt to scuttle across? If so, might we suggest using this instead:

Remote-controlled spike strips used in high-speed car chases. But why not for regular city traffic as well?

Image: Wired, The Telegraph 


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