How One City Is Using Optical Illusions to Prevent Traffic Accidents

Thanks to some skillfully painted fake speed bumps, speeding has decreased in this European metropolis.

If anything, you’d think optical illusions on the road would be dangerous. But in London, transportation operators are using optical illusions as part of a crusade to make the roads safer—and it’s working! (What’s not safe: putting your feet on the dashboard.)

Since summer 2016, Transport for London (TFL) has painted 45 false, totally two-dimensional “speed bumps” in undisclosed locations on local roads. These fake speed bumps are basically the less cool, more practical version of 3D street art. They have the exact same black-and-white design as real London speed bumps, except they’re all paint and no height.

These false bumps get the job done without the drawbacks of actual speed bumps, which include road pollution, noise, and high cost. And they’re just as effective in making drivers slow down. Simply out of force of habit, drivers slow down when they see that black and white pattern. Plus, they don’t know for sure whether or not it’s real, and they don’t want to run the risk of hurtling over a real bump at full speed, so they brake. TFL, which maintains some of the city’s busiest roads, tried out this fake-speed-bump method on a smaller scale a couple years ago. Since that trial, average driver speeds did drop noticeably. Here’s a refresher on some road etiquette you’ve probably forgotten since driving school.

According to The Daily Mail, other boroughs of London have begun adopting this practice. Nigel Hardy, head of sponsorship for TFL, lays out the ultimate goal of the illusory speed bumps: “we are working hard to create a road network which is free from death or serious injury.” Who could say no to that?

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Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a word nerd who has been writing for since 2017. You can find her byline on pieces about grammar, fun facts, the meanings of various head-scratching words and phrases, and more. Meghan graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2017; her creative nonfiction piece “Anticipation” was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Angles literary magazine.