Transport Opinion

Victorian road signs still pose a lethal problem

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Some of the road signs that could potentially cause lethal harm (Images via Pinterest)

After a decade of warning against the suggestive power of Victoria's driver fatigue signs, Dean Frenkel explains why the TAC's ignorance could cost lives.

TEN YEARS AGO, the Herald Sun published my article alerting the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) that many of their signs on country roads were hypnotic and potentially dangerous.

Driving long distances in a car is highly hypnotic. In fact, it satisfies many of the key elements of being hypnotised: sitting still, looking ahead in a straight line, focusing on one visual feature, watching moving scenery on the peripheral right and left, feeling and listening to the loud rhythmic drone of the ambient sound of the road.

The last thing that long-distance drivers need is more hypnotic suggestion or even worse, a continuous collection of hypnotic suggestions — as experienced on Victorian country roads.

When I studied hypnotherapy, the power of suggestion was hypnosis 101. To drivers in a vulnerable state or a state of fatigue, suggestive road signs can be dangerous, even deadly.

But rather than prioritising the safety of Victorian road users, the TAC showed more concern for its professional ego. It failed to review or pull down the signs.

And now with road deaths on Victorian roads rising significantly in the last year, the TAC is continuing to drive its flawed road safety strategy with its eyes closed.

Today, just as it was ten years ago, if you drive on country Victorian highways, you will see a procession of poorly written road signs that achieve the opposite of the intended message. It is monumentally appalling.

Here is a collection of the TAC’s controversial roadside messages that have appeared on country roads. 

‘Only sleep cures fatigue.’

Ten per cent of drivers are known to be highly suggestible. If a driver is fatigued and vulnerable to suggestion, this sign will only deepen their fatigue. This is roadside roulette.

‘Sore eyes? Powernap now.’

To a highly suggestible driver who has been driving for hours on the open highway, the first response is to wipe their sore eyes. The follow-up command to ‘powernap now’ is powerful and reckless.

‘Feeling drowsy? Powernap now.’

If you’re feeling drowsy and drive past a sign that says ‘feeling drowsy?’ the natural response is to feel even drowsier. These kinds of signs should be written very carefully. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to get it right.

‘Trouble concentrating? Powernap now.’

When a long-distance driver is confronted by ‘Trouble concentrating?’, if they continue to drive they may lose their grip on concentration.

‘Tired? Powernap now.’

Suggestibility is primal. Try turning on a tap if you need to wee. It doesn’t take long for the feeling to envelop you. This messaging is self-perpetuating. 

‘Sore feet? Powernap now.’

This is frightening. Reminding the long-distance driver that their feet are sore is an introspective diversion that deepens the hypnotic state — when those words are repeated over and again they create exactly what they’re warning about.

‘Feeling drowsy? Powernap now.’

If you read these words several hours into a road trip and you’re already tired, one part of the tired brain can prefer to be seduced into responding immediately to the message to power-nap now rather than pulling the car over first.

‘Yawning? Take a powernap.’

One of the problems with these signs is that if someone actually does fall asleep driving at the wheel, there is no way of knowing that they fell asleep after reading these horror signs.

‘Weary? Powernap now.’

Much better to “pull over for a break”. It's really not so hard to get right. 

‘Yawning? A microsleep can kill.’

Yawning is an onomatopoeic word that is so contagious, reading or hearing it usually triggers more yawning. This could be a real-life tragic-comedy sketch.

Dean Frenkel is a writer and communications consultant, lectured in Public Speaking and Communications at Victoria University, worked with politicians and written extensively for newspapers. He is also a qualified hypnotherapist.

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