September 9th, 2010
07:11 PM ET

3D illusion in street tries to change drivers' attitudes

The 2D decal becomes a 3D illusion as drivers approach it.

What would happen if you saw a 3D illusion of a young girl chasing a ball across the street near a school? 

A Canadian safety group hopes you'd slow down and think twice about speeding through a school zone. Critics of the image say it might scare drivers and lead to accidents. 

Either way, she's got your attention, which is the point, said a spokesman for Preventable, a British Columbia-based safety awareness group behind the stunt. 

"This is a way to reinvigorate what becomes a pretty tired message every year. We become anesthetized to the risks related to driving, but the risks are very real, especially in British Columbia, where we have more than 400 fatalities each year related to motor vehicles," said David Dunne, Director of the Traffic Safety Foundation and spokesperson for Preventable. 

Video: Will drivers stop for 3D illusion? 

The 45-foot, heat-treated 2D decal will stay on a busy intersection near the Ecole Pauline Johnson in West Vancouver for a week. The illusion's debut on Tuesday coincided with the start of school year, when children are at the greatest risk of pedestrian-related injuries, Preventable says on its website. 

The group, which uses guerrilla marketing in campaigns focusing on preventable injuries, developed the image with the support of the BCAA Traffic Safety Foundation, the District of West Vancouver, School District #45 West Vancouver, and the West Vancouver Police. 

With the help of a Youtube video that shows how it appears to an approaching driver, the illusion has sparked intense debate in British Columbia and outside Canada, with some claiming it could lead drivers to swerve or brake abruptly in a school zone. 

But Preventable says a detailed risk assessment was undertaken to address such concerns. 

Before drivers approach the image, they pass a "School Zone" sign, crosswalk, an extended curb and a sign by Preventable that reads, "You’re probably not expecting kids to run out on the road." 

The figure begins to take shape from about 50 feet away and appears in 3D for another 40 feet until the driver it about 10 feet away, where the image recedes into a "blob" on the street," Dunne said. 

"As you’re driving over it, it's not like driving over a little girl. The illusion, as it appears, looks like a cartoon, I've likened it to the difference between a photo and a cartoon." 

Preventable and its partner groups are monitoring the image to ascertain  how it affects drivers' behavior. In the meantime, the attention it has drawn has accomplished its intended effect,  said Dunne. 

"If hundreds of people were killed each year in British Columbia because of the airline industry, we wouldn't accept it. And these injuries and fatalities are preventable," he said. 

"We need to change people's attitudes to really change their behavior. Sometimes you have to get in people's faces to change their attitudes."

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Filed under: Canada • Child safety
soundoff (547 Responses)
  1. Noble9

    I wonder what the lawsuit will be like when some 85-year-old driver swerves into oncoming traffic to avoid the optical illusion.

    September 9, 2010 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • SiameseCats

      Probably a small lawsuit. In that School zone, the 85 yar old driver was going 15 miles per hour as required by law.

      September 9, 2010 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr.

      Keep wondering. Reports thus far haven't seen anyone "tricked" by this illusion enough to slam on the brakes or panic. I live in the area and there's no mistaking this for a real child.

      September 9, 2010 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aloisae

      They don't have to mistake this for a real child for it to be problematic, Dr. They just have to be distracted enough by the illusion not to notice a real driving hazard. And if THAT is not a problem then this is an entire waste of money since they are saying either that the stretch of road is already sufficiently safe that there are no potential driving hazards (such as small children playing) for there to be any safety issues or that the illusion is not being noticed by drivers.

      September 9, 2010 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kim

      This could just desensitize drivers and end up resulting in a kid getting hit.

      September 9, 2010 at 8:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • A CNN Reader

      You seriously expect an 85 year old driver to have the reflexes or vision to see it, comprehend it, react to it, and avoid it??? Man someone needs to wake you up cause you in la la land...

      September 9, 2010 at 8:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Driver 8

      This is a horrible idea. Instead of focusing on what's in front of us, let's focus on an image painted in the street. It's confusing and can cause the complete opposite of the intended effect.

      September 9, 2010 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • steven

      That was my thought, honestly it is a very bad idea !

      September 10, 2010 at 5:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Robert Haas

      wouldn't "speed bumps" be more effective,especially ones painted in Da-Glo/reflective colors? The perspective illusion is wonderful, but impractical and dangerous.

      September 10, 2010 at 8:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      There won't be any swerving because at that speed a tap of the brakes will completely stop you, it's not like it's a 40mph zone. Worst case scenario it will just slow traffic to a halt because people will be barely moving to admiring the art

      September 10, 2010 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Lawrence

      On two lane roads the speed limit is 20 MPH, four lane roads it's 25 MPH. The best way to slow down people is to put a fake police officer on the side walk with a radar gun.

      September 11, 2010 at 11:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • wb2jhf

      Two outcomes: first, after about 5 times, it will not be noticed, and then when a kid really runs out, he is toast. Second, drivers swerving to avoid, are likely to hit something else. One needs to consider how this image will appear to changing position on the road: 3D in motion.

      September 12, 2010 at 1:12 am | Report abuse |
    • keyser soulja

      I love this idea now when people see a kid in the street somewhere else they will think it's fake 2. Instead of doing this stupid idea make the ticket 1000 bucks for speeding in a school zone no one will do it then.

      September 12, 2010 at 1:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Billy

      " Reports thus far haven't seen anyone "tricked" by this illusion enough to slam on the brakes or panic."

      Lol yeah you're an idiot. It says right in the article this has only been in use since Tuesday.

      September 12, 2010 at 1:43 am | Report abuse |
    • jl-lt

      "Robert Haas

      wouldn't "speed bumps" be more effective,especially ones painted in Da-Glo/reflective colors? "

      Agree! In contrast to the speed bumps that are already working effectively, the new idea of the 3D illusion would cause many problems. And when the drivers have learned of the 3Ds are illusions, they would not be as willing to slow down when seeing the 3Ds as seeing the speed bumps.

      September 12, 2010 at 2:32 am | Report abuse |
    • J.Bradley

      Okay, lemme' get this straight – most of you negative commentors are saying that most drivers are pathologic, murderous speed freaks, driving around with no human empathy whatsoever, and if they see an image of a child playing in the street they MAY slow down or stop a few times perhaps by some kind of instinct – not by any human instinct of not harming anybody but I guess but by the instinct of just NOT GETTING CAUGHT hitting a small child – then after they realize it's just an illusion they'll go back to being the pathologic road ragers they always are. Okay then, let's just put devices in the car that either shocks the driver or disables the car if it goes over the speed limit since nobody else can drive safely except YOU.

      September 12, 2010 at 2:35 am | Report abuse |
    • tracey

      It's Canada, we aren't law suit slap happy.

      September 12, 2010 at 2:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Blessed Geek

      So far, so good, disaster has not happened yet. Very familiar refrain.

      Prior to the Challenger disaster, engineers were thinking, hmmm ... this O-ring problem haven't been giving us problems. And then again for the Columbia they sighed, ... this loose foam business hasn't given us much problems.

      In statistics, when disaster has not happened, there are only two possibilities in the bathtub
      – it's not going to happen until something else breaksdown
      – as each day passes the chances of the disaster occurring the next day increases.

      Remove the illusion before that rare few persons get their senses dulled immunized by the optical illusion. One day, the day is waiting, when someone will hit a real child thinking believing it's an optical illusion. The human brain gets accustomed, inured, indurated, normalized to conditions and visuals. Like when you stay 10 minutes on the toilet too long and you no longer smell it. Or loud metallic music dulls your senses and lulls you to sleep on a hot tired summer afternoon. One day a real kid will get run over.

      September 12, 2010 at 3:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Edwin

      Perhaps the lawsuit involving the driver who swerves and crashes into another car, killing someone, will be enough for them to rethink it.

      Or the one where the driver has a heart attack and dies.

      September 12, 2010 at 4:21 am | Report abuse |
    • James Christensen

      At 1st glance it seems a good idea. What will be the response when a large truck, going 15 mph, swerves to miss the 'child', hits the brakes – then hits and crushes a school bus with 40-50 REAL children on board?Trucks do not stop as quickly as a small car can. How many have to die for this 'illusion' to be proven a bad idea? Speed bumps WORK. Install them. As another reply said, use a 3d of an officer with a radar gun on the sidewalk! That would be great!

      September 12, 2010 at 8:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Nicole

      For the people that keep saying this will CAUSE an accident- the streets are ALWAYS full of distractions and sudden obstacles. The POINT of this piece is that drivers need to be vigilant and not think they own the road. A decal is a better wake-up call than running over a real child chasing a ball into the street. This piece is near a pedestrian crosswalk near a SCHOOL, meaning if a driver is going so fast that they will swerve off the road because of a picture, then they are going too fast and putting the lives of children in danger.

      There are schools of thought and well tested "Traffic Calming" projects in Europe and Portland OR that murals in the streets do serve to slow traffic and prevent accidents. I think this is a great project and a clever use of anamorphic imagery.

      September 12, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Trisha

      This is Canada, we don't sue eachother for every little thing. We have a thing called personal responsibility.

      September 12, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Sem

    so people hit the break, someone slams in the back or even better they try to avoid it and smash into a house... yup only in canda.

    September 9, 2010 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sem


      September 9, 2010 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Haily

      That's the point–to hit the brakes. If you and the person tailgating you are going fast enough in a school zone that slamming on the breaks could cause significant damage then you obviously need to slow down.

      September 10, 2010 at 1:16 am | Report abuse |
    • wb2jhf

      Only in Canada? I think municipalities are in for a monetary loss.

      September 12, 2010 at 1:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Edwin

      Haily: if the illusion causes someone to crash, killing a passenger in a car, is it still such a wonderful thing?

      Keeping cars driving slow is well and good, but putting drivers and their passengers at risk with a stunt is not so good.

      September 12, 2010 at 4:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      That's OK, most people probably won't see the optical illusion because they'll be too busy texting.

      September 12, 2010 at 8:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Jen

      Hit the break??? Do you mean Brake??? geees

      September 12, 2010 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
  3. Greg, San Francisco, CA

    This is a great idea – right up until it causes a head on collision.

    September 9, 2010 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Chris

    Uhh... people will get used to it, and just gun the throttle eventually – and then when there really IS a little child in the road – the results will be catastrophic – horrible idea.

    September 9, 2010 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • btechno

      I agree – it seems like it could cause people to ignore a real child in the road, thinking that it was just an illusion.

      September 9, 2010 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susan

      That's exactly what I was thinking, Chris.

      September 9, 2010 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr.

      Yeah, good idea to stop posting. If you've actually seen the effect in person, you'd know what you were talking about – but you haven't. I live in the area and can speak from experience.

      September 9, 2010 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aloisae

      My thought too. I'll be waiting for the first time somebody kills a small child who runs into the middle of the street at dawn or dusk and then uses this campaign as part of the defense. Hopefully the resulting civil lawsuits drive Preventable into bankruptcy.

      September 9, 2010 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lynette

      Ever read the story about the boy who cried "Wolf"? People might ignore the real thing because they've become innured to the illusion.

      September 9, 2010 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • good luck with that

      The Boy Who Cried Wolf.. Spent many years as a traffic engineer and that has to be the best analogy for those that need to be shown the future instead of the narrow present that resides immediately in front of their nose.

      If you take the fear of it being a real kid in the road, the driver may not stop for the next "fake" kid, condolences to the sad parents of that "fake" kid. This may bring speeds down at this location for a while, but this will train drivers that you don’t really need to stop for "fake" kids in the road.

      September 9, 2010 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Teri

      That was my exact thought as well when I read this article. People will get used to it and know it isn't real, so they next time they are driving somewhere and see a kid in the street – frozen in terror of the oncoming car – they may very will think "oh, it's just one of those optical illusion things."

      September 9, 2010 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • jane

      That's exactly what I was thinking... First, it will be dangerous as drivers slam on their brakes unexpectedly. Then, they will get used to it... and when there is the occasional driver who hasn't driven that road before, they will slam on the brakes unexpectedly... meanwhile the drivers become desensitized to seeing kids in the road and stop braking, or hesitate before braking, or don't brake as much.

      No upside to that at all.

      September 9, 2010 at 10:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brandy

      I don't think this would cause accidents since in school zones you should be driving slow. So unless you are speeding there should not be a problem

      September 11, 2010 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary J

      Someone may be driving through that area one day, see a child in the road, and think, "That's just the drawing that was on the news." They then hear a loud thomp and think, "Wow. That was a rather realistic drawing." This just has "bad idea" written all over it, from desensitizing drivers to causing wrecks. I understand the safety group has good intentions, but this obviously wasn't a well thought out idea. Like another commenter said, wouldn't speed bumps be more effective?

      September 12, 2010 at 1:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Nik

      It's a great idea because it'll make people slow down in a school zone if they're driving too fast. plus there are warnining signs before the actual picture "But Preventable says a detailed risk assessment was undertaken to address such concerns.

      Before drivers approach the image, they pass a "School Zone" sign, crosswalk, an extended curb and a sign by Preventable that reads, "You’re probably not expecting kids to run out on the road."

      AND it's only going to be there for a week.

      September 12, 2010 at 3:21 am | Report abuse |
  5. cbusone

    This is gonna be a traffic problem. Although, it is along the right idea and it doesn't have to be an picture of a child.

    September 9, 2010 at 7:27 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Lee

    That is way cool but I think it might cause an accident by making someone slam on the breaks

    September 9, 2010 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Herman McBerman

      Why is it that three posters thus far don't know the difference between "brakes" and "breaks"? Are all of the CNN commentators stuck at a third grade reading level?

      September 12, 2010 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
  7. Geronimo

    This has stupid written all over it!
    Dear Preventable, if you are reading this please prevent future children deaths by not going through with this.
    A motorist once fooled by this will not slow down next time.

    September 9, 2010 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. California

    I like it. The intended consequence is to get people to slow down in school zones. Unless you have been in a situation of losing a child to someone who hit them in a cross walk or school zone, then dont assume it will be a bad thing for people to slow down! And if you get rear ended by someone because you slowed down, it will be their fault for not leaving enough distance between each vehicle. And for the 85 year old woman who has slowed reaction, there is more than enough time for her to slow down to a reasonable speed if she is paying attention to the road. I wish they would use them here in California.

    September 9, 2010 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • wise old owl

      having driven 4 plus million miles professionally, this is a horrible ideal,keep the warning signs on the side where they belong.
      drive with courtesy and common sense. try the smith driving system, great learning tool.
      ps, california is bankrupt, maybe they can get north dakota to pay for the illusion.

      September 9, 2010 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bad Idea

      Just great now people will think oh its just 3D and not really a person and kids will get run down. Dumb people and there brilliant ideas.

      September 10, 2010 at 12:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Robert Haas

      speed bumps are far more practical and safer ,especially if they are painted in DaGlo colors or reflective paint.

      September 10, 2010 at 8:41 am | Report abuse |
    • wb2jhf

      Theory is nice, but after spending an hour or so straightening out the details with police and the ambulance, I think motorists tolerance is going to be pretty low.

      September 12, 2010 at 1:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Sara

      Flashing speed cameras or flashing "mph" speed monitors work great. A warning sign with "Police on Duty" works along with flashing warnings or alone. Sign not a lie since police should be on duty somewhere near to protect walking children from preditors. Give adult school zone monitors a speed gun and the authority to write down license plates of speeders as well as to testify against them in court. Erect a sign to warn the drivers of the speed guns. The 3D playing girl is not effective enough and may have other consequences.

      September 12, 2010 at 2:04 am | Report abuse |
  9. Jeanine G

    so...what about when folks get used to seeing this in the next few months? what happens when its a real kid then?

    September 9, 2010 at 7:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr.

      You're used to seeing stop signs aren't you?

      September 9, 2010 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      Actually, it's only going to be there for a week, as it says right in the article.
      "The 45-foot, heat-treated 2D decal will stay on a busy intersection near the Ecole Pauline Johnson in West Vancouver for a week."
      It's just something to remind people at the beginning of the school year and is not something that will last long enough for people to get used to. And, btw, if someone decides that b/c this one time they saw a kid, they won't slow down next (as is suggested in the article), they need more than there license taken – they need a straight-jacket.

      September 9, 2010 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Anka

    My fear is that, eventually, drivers will become numb to this tactic and just assume that a real child in the street is only an illusion, not bothering to slow down.

    September 9, 2010 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Fred

    Or even worse, once people get used to the illusion and stop breaking for children in the street under the false assumption they are illusions. It's called Desensitization.

    September 9, 2010 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kelle711

      Are people idiots? I cannot imagine passing the illusion so many times that when I see a kid in the street, I think "Oh, it is just an illusion," and keep on rolling. Just how jaded has our society become that we can get desensitized to the point where we can roll over even the illusion of a kid without a thought. I am a parent and I would break every time, illusion or no, because each time I would think, what if this were a real child, thank God it is just an illusion. I hear the desensitization argument and if it proves valid, then the human race has more problems than just speedng in a school zone.

      September 9, 2010 at 10:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • jane

      Kellye and others who think it isn't a bad idea to get drivers to slow down... and saying you don't get used to a stop sign... Clearly this is not an honest "stop sign". Unless you are going to make a U-turn in the middle of the street, you *have* to drive over the "child".

      It doesn't require drivers being willing to take their chances on it being a fake child. All it takes is for one driver, sometime, to hesitate before braking... just a slight hesitation, having to think twice before braking... or not brake enough, continuing to go forward expecting to have to drive over an optical illusion...

      Terrible idea, and very irresponsible. JMHO.

      September 9, 2010 at 10:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Emareff

      I'm in total agreement with Kelle. Drivers should be aware of their surroundings constantly. I don't see how a "cartoon" could mistaken for a real child. If you are driving 15 mph what are you doing that could possibly be so distracting? Texting, updating a social site on your phone? If you're so easily distracted while going 15 mph then I'd hate to be near you while on the highway. Sometimes people shut their minds off after they've turned their car on. It doesn't go by auto-pilot so your full attention is required.

      September 10, 2010 at 12:28 am | Report abuse |
    • jane

      Have you seen these "cartoons"? If it's anything like the drinking cups I've seen, they are quite realistic! The "cups" I saw were lying on the floor and you really thought it was a cup until you reached for it. So, basically, you have to drive "through" what looks like a real child. I bet you wouldn't be able to tell for sure until you were already hitting the "child". I don't know about you, but I don't want anyone hitting my kid with a car, even at 15 mph!!!!!!!!!!

      *I* am keeping my kids far away from YOU if you think that's ok!!! People can get quite hurt being hit by a bicycle going 5 or 10 mph. Kids have been killed being run over by cars backing out of driveways. No thank you, don't hit my kids at ANY speed.

      September 10, 2010 at 2:04 am | Report abuse |
    • jane

      emereff, how in the world do you get that I am texting or something going 15 mph, from my saying a "fake" optical illusion kid that you must drive through might lead to some driver sometime assuming a real child is an optical illusion? Sheesh. Maybe you don't understand the definition of "optical illusion"??? That doesn't mean a mere "cartoon".

      Such short-sightedness is dangerous.

      September 10, 2010 at 2:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Emareff

      Here is the actual excerpt in case you missed it. And Jane, I wasn't directing my comment towards "you" personally. I apologize for not being more specific. What I'm saying is that the image recedes into an unrecognizable blob BEFORE you drive over it. I'm just not understanding how someone could mistake it as a real child if they are driving that slowly and the image distorts itself again once they are 10 feet away still. I haven't seen it with my own eyes, but I've read comments from the people who have and they are not outraged the way everyone else is, because the image does exactly what the article describes.

      The figure begins to take shape from about 50 feet away and appears in 3D for another 40 feet until the driver it about 10 feet away, where the image recedes into a “blob” on the street,” Dunne said. 

      “As you’re driving over it, it’s not like driving over a little girl. The illusion, as it appears, looks like a cartoon, I’ve likened it to the difference between a photo and a cartoon.” 

      September 10, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • jane

      You're right, I haven't seen this in person. I've seen something similar on a smaller scale, what looked like a coffee cup, and if you didn't know you had to look closely, as in be reaching for it, before you could tell it wasn't real.

      Ok, so it turns into a blob at 10 feet away. Yes I did read the excerpt you mentioned, and I did the math, and here is what I posted below:

      "The figure begins to take shape from about 50 feet away and appears in 3D for another 40 feet until the driver it about 10 feet away, where the image recedes into a "blob" on the street," Dunne said. "

      So you have to keep driving forward until your eyes are about 10 feet away. 15 mph is about 22 feet per SECOND. So if you become accustomed to it and keep driving, it isn't until 10 feet away that you will first get an idea you might be wrong. Going 15 mph, at that point you have half a second before you hit the child... not even taking into account that your front bumper is a few feet in front of your eyes. It's probably more like 1/4 of a second.

      September 12, 2010 at 1:11 am | Report abuse |
  12. Terry

    The idea of trying to reduce accidents involving children is a great and noble idea, but this is not the best way to do it.
    As another person suggested, after the first time, drivers will be used to it and then, when there is a real child crossing that road later once the image is removed, they'll assume it's still the image and not hit the brakes at all !

    September 9, 2010 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr.

      So what's your solution to this, Terry? Oh nothing? Alright then.

      September 9, 2010 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
  13. headesk

    Why can't they make a 3D sign that says "This could have been a child. SLOW DOWN"?

    September 9, 2010 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert Haas

      Too much to read with about a microsecond to react. Speed Bumps, now there's an old idea that's better!

      September 10, 2010 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
  14. mrsubwayguy

    Blame Canada!

    September 9, 2010 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • HA!

      I think South Park had a whole episode on that, they sang "@%$& Canada!"

      September 9, 2010 at 10:11 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Thomas M. DeBoni

    Bad idea! We don't want to have people habituating the belief that a child chasing a ball into the street is an optical illusion, nor do we want people to be be startled and swerve to avoid the illusory kid. How about changing it to a representation of a traffic warning sign or a speed bump...?

    September 9, 2010 at 7:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • wb2jhf

      Much better idea. Stop sign in the roadway. It will get drivers attention without causing hurried braking (note the spelling) and not induce swerving. Many toll roads in the US do this at interchanges, and it seems to work I must admit though, when I see "Ahead Stop" in the road, rather than "Stop Ahead" it makes me wonder.

      September 12, 2010 at 1:27 am | Report abuse |
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