Quirky ideas to slow us down

All over the world people have had original, sometimes quirky, ideas about how to slow us down on the roads. England uses smileys, France creates cardboard cut-outs to represent fatalities, India is trialling virtual speed bumps.

The idea of 3D painted speed bumps is to slow people down without causing accidents. India’s 2014 Road Accident Report claimed more than 11,000 deaths on the road were caused by speed bumps and potholes. As a result, officials began to remove speed breakers from freeways.

Trialling 3D speed bumps painted on the roads may deter drivers in the same way as real speed bumps without creating accidents. They’re also cheaper.


An Indian company selling suspension systems once placed on the road 3D stickers that looked like potholes. It wanted to suggest a smooth ride in spite of potholes. Fortunately, the stickers had the bonus effect of slowing drivers down.

A few years ago, a Canadian city trialled for a week a 3D speed bump with a drawing of a girl playing with a pink ball. It was a trick of the eye to anyone 30 feet away, as the girl rose up and seemed to be playing in the road. People dubbed her Pavement Patty and credited her with raising awareness of road safety.


In Philadelphia, road authorities used 3D drawings of road spikes on the road and, a month later, average speed had dropped by 38kmh.


Use of smileys in the UK is another quirky idea to slow people down. A sad smiley at the start of roadwork zones becomes happier as you reach the end of the construction zone. It works as a little nudge to keep drivers patient while driving slowly. Another kind smiles when you drive under the limit but not when you’re over the limit.

Chicago’s Department of Transportation came up with an innovative idea. Across a road were painted white lines that became progressively closer near a bend. Perception of shrinking distances made drivers think they were going faster than they actually were, so they slowed down. There were 36% fewer crashes in the 6 months after that, compared to that period the year before.

What works?

Some believe creating optical illusions will not work long term because people will just become used to them. But the same argument could be applied to ordinary speed limits, or speed-related signage.

Tom Vanderbilt, in his book, Traffic, says ideas that work subconsciously tend to have more effect because we are less likely to resist them. Even just taking away the white line down the middle of a road can slow people down. This is because it removes the perception of your safe territory.

It will be interesting to see what works in the long term. There is at least one good reason to slow down and that is the price of your green slip. Drivers who collect demerit points and speeding offences on their licences are likely to pay more for a green slip.

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