Monday, January 23, 2012

Safety games

This post may not be about bicycling but it is related to road safety and personal health - topics that frequently show up here. Plus, the idea is so cool that I just have to present it here.

I have heard about it before. It is a concept of implementing the video/computer games theory to everyday life. Apparently, this theory can help solving the problem of disobeying speed limits. Most drivers either ignore them or drive just barely over the displayed limit. How can we encourage motorists to truly obey speed limits? Usually, towns would install speed cameras to take pictures of those who drive too fast. Unfortunately, this doesn't really drop the average speed of vehicles on the road. It just penalizes those who drive much too fast as speed cameras are usually set to detect vehicles above certain threshold, say 10kph above the posted speed limit. Otherwise, the system would clog quickly since nearly every single driver would have to be ticketed.

Kevin Richardson from San Francisco came up with a better idea. Together with the Volkswagen company, he installed a speed camera on one of the busy streets of Stockholm, but working differently. His speed camera takes pictures only of those who drive slower than the posted speed limit (30kph, in that case). His camera was also accompanied by a sign informing passing drivers that they can win a lottery for safe driving if their car is selected. This brilliant concept uses computer game theory to encourage motorists to obey speed limits. People like to be entertained and like to compete with each other, so why not have fun on the way to work? And if you can really win some money this way, then why not take a part in it?

Kevin's experiment was successful and during the first 3 days a total of 24,853 cars passed his camera. The average speed before the experiment was 32kph and dropped by 22% to 25kph during those 3 days.
Another interesting example on video games theory applied to everyday life is the experiment with piano stairs. In order to encourage people to use stairs more, instead of an escalator, special pressure plates were installed on steps and connected with audio system to play piano key sounds. The result - 66% more people chose the stairs instead of the escalator. They could enjoy playing the piano while walking up/down the stairs and better health. In fact, the change in usage of stairs/escalator before and during the experiment is quite astonishing as you can see it in this video:

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