Recently in safety Category

The phantom toll booth

While there's nothing wrong with toll roads, there's definitely something wrong with many toll booth operations. Requiring traffic to slow from expressway speeds to zero introduces a whole range of problems, since different drivers don't accelerate and decelerate at the same pace. And when traffic designers unwittingly introduce additional confusion into the equation, they're just asking for trouble. Note this photo from a toll plaza. Drivers are being asked to determine, from a distance, into which lane they should drive. The far left is for those with electronic transponders (often called something like "EZ Pass"). The next lane is for those with exact coins. The others are for drivers without exact change, or those who need receipts.

It's not bad enough that the signs are relatively small -- the situation is made worse by including a three-lane gap between "exact coins" and "change/receipts". Three lanes right in the middle -- all closed. That causes anyone who makes a mistake (or who can't read the signs from a long-enough distance) to have to make a dramatic swing across a wide gap of road, cutting into lanes that already have backups.

Worse yet, the only way a driver would know that the three lanes in the middle are closed is to see the red "X" at the top of the sign. You probably find them hard to read clearly in this photo, just as they were in real life. That's because the lane open/closed indicators are surrounded by a lot of other bright lights, and the closed lanes remain brightly lit, even though they're not available for traffic. Anyone who's traveled through a well-lit nighttime work zone knows it's hard for the eyes to adjust from dark nighttime highways to bright light. Asking those drivers to then use bright lights to make decisions that could require crossing three lanes of closed toll booths is nothing more than a recipe for trouble.

This awful approach to signaling drivers where to pay their tolls could be improved by (at the very least) closing the gap between the open and closed lanes, making the open/closed lane indicators wide strips of red or green light (instead of a single "X" or an arrow), and dimming the lights for those lanes that aren't open. By definition, the people using an expressway are oftentimes from out of town and not familiar with local geography. Why make it harder and more dangerous for them to use toll roads than it needs to be?

Emergency or just going up?

Elevator designers of the world: When you install a button to call the fire department or otherwise signal an emergency, do not -- repeat, DO NOT -- place it above the "Up" button, and then make it more prominent than the "Up" button itself.

People are often in a compromised state of mind when using an elevator -- rushing to get to work, visiting from out of town, or even drunk -- and the natural instinct is to press the most obvious button. In this case, the most obvious button is the one that is backlit and circled with a big black ring. The "Up" button here, by comparison, looks like it's much less important and much less likely to result in a ride anywhere.

All of this is compounded by the fact that it's natural to expect "UP" to be, you know, ON TOP.

This is a terrible example of non-intuitive design. Every signal being sent to the user is to press the wrong button.

Bad design: Chicago police vests

Chicago police officers can be seen walking around the city in what are obviously their bulletproof vests. Many, though not all, uniformed officers are seen wearing these vests on the outside of the uniform shirt. What makes it a design failure?

Watch any of these officers for more than about three minutechicagopolicebulletproofvest.jpgs on any moderately warm day, and the officer can be seen lodging his or her thumbs behind the vest, lifting it just slightly off the chest. Perhaps it's an all-weather condition, perhaps it's not. But it certainly looks like the vest is either too hot or too bulky, making the thumbs-in-the-armholes maneuver almost universal.

Thus, instead of leaving the officer's hands free to do whatever they should be available to do (guard a weapon, guide traffic, or help a little old lady to cross the street), the design of the vest causes many an officer to stand in a completely unnatural and un-ready position for action. The vest acts like a giant pair of armpit-high pockets.

A well-designed vest would accommodate the need for officer safety while leaving the officer comfortable enough at all times that constant adjustment of the vest would be unnecessary. Like a miner's helmet with a lantern attached, the protective clothing should free the user's hands from having to do something, not require them to do more.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the safety category.

good design is the previous category.

signs is the next category.

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