Optical illusions created with 3-D paint in busy intersections can make streets safe by making drivers believe there are raised barriers that would damage their vehicles. (courtesy Photo)

Optical illusions can improve pedestrian and driver safety

Optical illusions are used in many ways in the arts and entertainment industry, but a town in Iceland has come up with a way to improve traffic safety by using an illusion created with 3-D paint.

A pedestrian crosswalk illusion was painted on a narrow street to make it appear as though there were above-ground barriers that would cause damage to a vehicle.

When approaching this illusion, drivers naturally slowed down. It’s much more effective than road signs that tell drivers they should decrease their speed. This is because this painted image tricks drivers into thinking they might damage their vehicles if they drive too fast. However, it is only paint.

A similar project was recently done in India, where two artists painted stripes on a road made to look three-dimensional. It was an effort to get drivers to slow down when they approached a crosswalk, rather than speeding by and darting around pedestrians who, once in the crosswalk, have the right of way.

While speeding drivers might try to avoid slowing down for crosswalks or pedestrians, they are usually conscious of other obstacles that may be in the road such as potholes, curbs or debris. When they see the illusion of something that looks like a bump or barrier in the road, they are much more likely to decrease their speed to be sure they don’t hit the obstacle. These barriers will keep many drivers who typically speed through an intersection from hitting a pedestrian, which is in the best interest of every driver.

According to the real estate blog Curbed, the intersection at Market and Fifth streets had the highest number of pedestrian collisions in San Francisco between 2010 and 2016. Painting 3-D images on the crosswalks of this intersection would surely reduce the number of pedestrian accidents occurring every year in this deadly intersection.

Pedestrians also need to understand that they do not always have the right of way. Streets that have traffic signals make the right of way clear. Pedestrians only have the right of way if they are walking in the crosswalk with the walk signal indicating it is safe to cross the street.

Understanding the right of way becomes harder when you approach an intersection where there are stop signs. Too many pedestrians who arrive at the crosswalk after a car has stopped and begins to drive past a stop sign will walk in the crosswalk. This is a situation where a pedestrian does not have the right of way and must wait until the car who got to the stop sign first goes through the intersection.

Pedestrians must pay attention while they walk to make sure have the right of way to cross the road.

Drivers, like pedestrians, need to have their full attention on the road. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that there are as many as 2 million people injured each year from car accidents, and over 32,000 killed. In 2016, 3,450 people in the U.S. were killed in a car accident because of distracted driving and the lives of over 10,000 people were lost due to speeding.

In a society in which everyone seems to be in a rush, it can be tempting to speed. In some areas, posted speed limits may seem unreasonably low and drivers may be tempted to drive just a little bit faster than they should. While many drivers do not realize it, they are putting their lives in danger.

Drowsiness is another problem for drivers, particularly for those who drive long distances. Endless stretches of highway or straight lines of road can cause drivers to become sleepy or otherwise less alert. Placing optical illusions such as these at some of the intersections and sparingly on highways could refocus the attention of a driver.

An optical illusion created by 3-D paint is a great way to get drivers’ attention, and keep them alert and focused on the dangers that await them. 3-D intersection crosswalks would be an excellent application of optical illusions for safety, but there may be other creative ways to use optical illusions to prevent accidents on our nations’ highways as well.

Neal Kuvara, managing partner and CEO of Kuvara Law Firm, is an advocate for reducing driver distraction and increasing road safety throughout the Bay Area and beyond.

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