Driving Slower or Seeing Things?

Driving Slower or Seeing Things?

VDOT tries to slow things down with optical illusions

If drivers on a portion of Lee Chapel Road in Burke look like they’re driving slower, it might just be an optical illusion.

The Virginia Department of Transportation is testing a new speed-check system on the road; a system designed to slow down drivers on speed-prone portions of the road.

“It's meant to trick drivers into perception of their speed,” said Ryan Hall, spokesperson for VDOT.

VDOT painted “optical speed bars” on the road, Wednesday, May 3, in an effort to slow things down. The painted images are meant to make drivers aware of a change in the road, in hopes of convincing them to want to slow down, said Ann Overton of the Virginia Transportation Research Council.

“They [optical speed bars] alert the driver that the road here is a little different, and you might want to pay attention,” said Overton.

The illusion will hopefully convince drivers they're traveling too fast, said Overton. Since the bars are painted on the road at decreasing distance intervals, drivers will think they are passing the painted bars more quickly, said Hall. VDOT hopes this will make them feel as if they're traveling faster, which in turn will make them slow down. This program is just one of many the state is looking at to help make the roads safer.

"Like any type of research, it takes time," said Overton. "We're going to take these various safety practices and make a determination."

THE PROGRAM IS being tested on two portions of Lee Chapel Road, near Burke Lake Park. Speed bars were painted on opposite ends of the problematic stretch of road. The section of winding road is notorious for speeding and an above average crash rate, according to Bill Harrell, VDOT’s assistant district traffic engineer. The department will continue to collect speed and crash data for some time so it can determine if the optical illusion bars are having a positive or negative effect.

“We're trying to get motorists to slow down in that middle portion of the road," said Ryan.

The bars were painted on the sides of the lanes, and look like some kind of lane marker or road indicator. Overton said either drivers will think they are moving faster and will slow down, or they will naturally slow down as a reaction to some kind of change in the road.

“We hope as motorists enter that section, they will be going the proper speed,” said Gene Arnold, senior research scientist at the Virginia Transportation Research Council.

Materials and labor put the cost of the test-program at about $2,000. Since Arnold said the main objective of the program is making the road safer for drivers, he said the cost is minimal when compared to the risk of speeding.

“In terms of the cost involved compared with injuries and fatalities, $2,000 is really nothing,” said Arnold.

Arnold said the department got the idea from similar methods in use overseas. Other states have also implemented similar programs with success, which prompted VDOT to get moving on trials of the program here.