Sept. 9, 2010— -- A child darting out into the street would make any lead-footed driver slow down, but an innovative speed bump that creates a 3-D version of a little girl chasing a ball is being criticized as creating danger instead of preventing it.
The image of the phantom girl has been put onto a busy road near a West Vancouver, B.C., elementary school. It has been deemed "creepy" and "scary" by some bloggers and Internet posters and downright dangerous by a traffic expert, but a spokesman for the organization that designed speed bump stands by the effect.
"It's not meant to shock and alarm the driver," said David Dunne, director of Road Safety Strategy for the British Columbia Automobile Association. "It's meant to get the driver's attention."
Painted using 3-D technology and then adhered to the pavement, the girl begins to appear to the driver as the vehicle approaches and then fades back into the road way as the car goes over it. It was placed outside the city's Ecole Pauline Johnson school.
"The sweet spot is about 50 feet to about 10 feet of the image," Dunne said. "It certainly gets across the point that kids can come out of nowhere or appear out of nowhere."
While the idea is inventive, it has had its share of critics.
"I think it's awful. I think it's dangerous," said Sam Schwartz, former New York City traffic commissioner who is now president of Sam Schwartz Engineering. "I think drivers are always scanning and suddenly they see this image up, they may very well panic."
Schwartz predicted some serious and potentially fatal consequences if the image catches drivers off-guard, causing them to veer off the road or stop suddenly in traffic.
"This is something that should be on a test track or on a video game," he said. "It shouldn't be on the street."
Internet commenters seem to agree.
"Great, now people will learn to ignore children running in the middle of the road thinking they're just speed bumps," one commenter wrote in to a Discover magazine blog.
Added another, "Playing with people's reactions while they're sitting in a 2,500-pound moving projectile of steel and glass isn't very wise."
Spokesman Says 3-D Girl 'Like a Cartoon Image'
Dunne admitted he got a call from a woman with a heart condition who was worried about being surprised by the phantom girl, but said the critics are all people who haven't seen the image in person.
"Nobody's going to mistake this image for a little girl," he said. "It's like a cartoon image."
Schwartz said he's always looking for ways to make the roads safer for pedestrians and drivers, but this isn't it.
"The science of drivers is that everything is done in split-seconds and a driver doesn't focus on one part of the road," he said. "If this is something that's actually going to be put on a road, I would veto it if I was the commissioner."
So far, the West Vancouver 3-D girl is the only one of her kind that Dunne knows of and it is considered a pilot program.
He said the idea, born by Preventable.ca, a non-profit safety organization for which Dunne is the spokesman, came after safety experts brainstormed about how to tell drivers to slow down so that they'll actually pay attention.
"Cops, they can't be everywhere," Dunne said. And in front of schools, he said, "parents are the worst offenders."
With hundreds of children hit by cars every year in the U.S. and Canada, he said, they were hoping to "break through the clutter."
About $15,000 was spent on the project, he said, and the BCAA and Preventable.ca got the approval of the city, the school and the police department before moving forward.
The speed bump girl will be removed from in front of Ecole Pauline Johnson on Sept. 12, and the reaction and effectiveness will be evaluated to determine whether such a system could be effective permanently.