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Why the Scots Gave One of their Roads Wiggly Lines

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Stirling Council had a problem. The A811 road between Stirling and Loch Lomond, Scotland, was overrun with speeding drivers breaking the 30 mph limit on the stretch of tarmac around Arnprior, a small village.

During an April 2013 meeting of the local council, the issue of traffic calming measures was debated. “Road markings plus additional traffic calming measures” were proposed near Arnprior. Sounds reasonable enough, right?

That's what Arnprior residents thought, until they viewed the resulting markings separating the route's two lanes. Rather than straight, even lines demarcating the direction of traffic, residents and drivers on the A811 were greeted by wiggly white lines that veered from side to side. The wavy markings weren't a mistake—they were deliberately painted that way in an attempt to slow down speeders.

Councillor Danny Gibson told The Daily Record, a Scottish newspaper, that “the center line markings are complemented by red road markings at the side. The combination influences driver behavior and encourages a reduction in vehicle speed. We have not been contacted by any local residents or road users to express any concerns about these markings.”

Local residents did complain to the press, though, and one opposition councillor said that the cost of painting the lines wonky, rather than straight, was 50 percent higher than normal.

The aim is to trick drivers into thinking that the road surface is uneven, and that they should slow down. But the optical illusion seems less than convincing.

The theory behind it is sensible, even if the way it was carried out wasn’t. A study by Leeds University found that vertical shifts in the carriageway—which the road markings were meant to mimic—reduce average driving speed by more than any other suggested traffic calming measure, including narrowing the width of a road. Simply put, people don’t want to risk their car going airborne by speeding too fast over the brow of a hill.

All of the resulting negative publicity, however, caused a new problem: Stirling Council’s illusion has been exposed. The road passing through Arnprior was revealed to not be bumpy at all—just wiggly. (Then again, we’re not wholly convinced anyone was really fooled in the first place.)

What’s more, the road markings intended to reduce speed and increase safety may in fact have had the opposite effect. The strange paintwork drew the world’s attention, and became something of a tourist attraction. 

Even so, the village of Wimborne, located in South West England's district of Dorset, tried to play a similar trick on its drivers last year, resulting in equally outraged residents. Realizing how unpopular their decision was, Wimborne's town council members were quick to reject the (wiggly) former party line. "After recent resurfacing work the lines were renewed, but the curve in the markings was more pronounced than it should have been," the council stated in a February 2014 release (via the BBC). "We have now corrected this and apologise for any problems this may have caused."  

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Driverless Cars Could Be Hacked With Stickers on Traffic Signs, Study Suggests
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As driverless cars inch toward becoming regular sights on our streets, experts have started to warn that the connected cars could be vulnerable to hackers who can take control of the vehicles from a distance. Though most of these warnings are related to hacking into the internet-connected computer on board, there’s an analog way to disrupt the workings of a driverless car, too, as Autoblog reports. Researchers from across the U.S. recently figured out how to trick a driverless car with a set of stickers, as they detail in a paper posted on arXiv.org.

They examined how fiddling with the appearance of stop signs could redirect a driverless car, tricking its sensors and cameras into thinking that a stop sign is actually a speed limit sign for a 45 mile-per-hour zone, for instance.

They found that by creating a mask to cover the sign that looks almost identical to the sign itself (so a human wouldn’t necessarily notice the difference), they could fool a road-sign classifier like those used by driverless cars into misreading the sign 100 percent of the time.

Five different views of a stop sign with black and white block-shaped stickers seen from various angles and distances.

Evtimov et al., arXiv.org

In a test of a right-turn sign, a mask that filled in the arrow on the sign resulted in a 100 percent misclassification rate. In two thirds of the trials, the right-turn was misclassified as a stop sign, and in one third, it was misclassified as an added lane sign. Graffiti-like stickers that read “love” and “hate” confused the classifier into reading a stop sign as a speed limit sign the majority of the time, as did an abstract design where just a few block-shaped stickers were placed over the sign.

“We hypothesize that given the similar appearance of warning signs, small perturbations are sufficient to confuse the classifier,” they write.

The study suggests that hackers wouldn’t need much equipment to wreak havoc on a driverless car. If they knew the algorithm of the car’s visual system, they would just need a printer or some stickers to fool the car.

However, the attacks could be foiled if the cars have fail-safes like multiple sensors and take context (like whether the car is driving in a city or on a highway) into account while reading signs, as Autoblog notes.

[h/t Autoblog]

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This Just In
London is Using Imaginary Speed Bumps to Curb Speeding
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In London, excessive speeding isn’t defined in quite the same way as it is in the States. While drivers here may get ticketed in some areas for hitting 40 or 50 miles per hour on city streets, vehicles there are in danger of being ticketed for exceeding 20 miles per hour.  

To curb the problem, the city began a clever initiative 18 months ago. Rather than spend the money it would take to install real speed bumps, officials for Transport for London painted stencils on the road that give the illusion of being raised. There’s no actual bump, but drivers who anticipate going over one might wind up slowing down.

We say “might” because, as a pilot program, there’s no word yet on how effective the faux-bumps have been. London has been struggling with traffic threats, noting in 2015 that speeds needed to be reduced to 20 mph in main arteries to help reduce the number of cyclists and pedestrians injured or killed as the result of collisions. The city recorded 136 fatalities in 2015 and 2092 injuries. The hope is to cut this number by 50 percent by the end of this decade.

[h/t Fast Company]

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