School speedsters on digital billboards

(by Erica Bulman, 24 Hours)


Children across the province are skipping their way back to school this week. Two of them are expected to die before the week is out, probably at an intersection, according to a B.C. organization dedicated to reducing avoidable injuries.


In an effort to curtail traffic accidents in school zones, the cities of Burnaby and Surrey are erecting giant digital billboards at select schools to photograph speeding cars and post their photos on the billboard with the message, “Before you rush through here, have a word with yourself.”


The billboards are the brainchild of the non-profit organization Preventable, and are the first of their kind in North America, according to the group. The BCAA Road Safety Foundation is also on board.


“Surrey is the largest school district in the province and we have about 70,000 students walking and cycling around their schools each day,” Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said. “It’s very important to ensure they are safe and that drivers are aware of the reduced speed limits.”


To maintain the “surprise factor, the billboards are mobile, moving from one school to another each day from Sept. 6 to 9.


But some question the surprise factor of suddenly seeing yourself on a giant billboard.


“(BCAA) is a very reputable organization, and I imagine they’d be responsible in how they’re approaching this,” said SFU clinical psychologist Joti Samra in a phone interview from the set of her Oprah Winfrey show. “But my initial reaction is that visually, seeing a picture of yourself is completely unexpected, a surprise.


“You could imagine that would have potential negative impacts, such as your attention, ironically, being diverted. If your eye is off the road, it impacts your ability to (drive) well.”


According to SafeKids Canada, kids aged five to 14 are at the greatest risk for pedestrian-related deaths, and crossing at an intersection is the most dangerous pedestrian activity for them.


Preventable was also behind last year’s controversial Pavement Patty, a 3D optical illusion pavement image of a small girl chasing a ball, which appeared realistic by drivers 30 meters away but disappeared as they got nearer. Skeptics argued the illusion could cause drivers to slam on the breaks and lead to accidents.


Elsewhere, NPA School Board Trustees called on the City of Vancouver to install permanent traffic control features on school crosswalks.


“Vancouver kids warrant the same consideration,” said School Board Trustee Ken Denike, noting the crossing at Jamieson Elementary, the site of last year’s Back to School Road Safety Campaign, has only a sign and crosswalk to control traffic.


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