My Neighborhood Speed Trap

I think the idea for my Neighborhood Speed Trap came from reading the old internet standby, "100 ways to be annoying", #84 - Sit in your front yard pointing a hair dryer at passing cars to see if they slow down.

Our family lives on a beautiful two-lane road in Sacramento. It is a great street to live on, except for all of the cars. And the motorcycles. And the helicopters.

People speed by, oblivious to the impact they could have if something unexpected runs into the road.


On Saturday, it was time to try out my new Hot Wheels Radar Gun. Yes, they make a radar gun for kids, they work, and they are $20.

The plan was to see what road conditions would have the greatest impact on drivers. I would note the average speed of cars before and after placing some objects in view of passing drivers.


I found the perfect spot to try it. At several places on my street (T Street), grassy islands divide the west and east-bound lanes of traffic. The small triangular area at the leading edge of the island was right in the line of sight for every driver that came down the road. That would be my stage.


I sat a few yards down the road. Ideally, I'd have been hidden behind a Hooter's billboard, but we live in a classy part of town so the only billboards are for diamonds and casinos.

The first thing I wanted to do was to find out what the average speed was under normal circumstances.



Most were below the speed limit.


I measured the speed of 35 passing cars, and found that they were traveling at an average of 27.1 miles per hour.

With this information in hand, I could determine what effect, if any, my efforts would have on the flow of traffic.

The first speed-reduction device I tried was this Mr. Potato Head.

Standing at just eight inches tall, he would be easy to overlook, but I had a feeling that seeing a toy here would remind drivers that children live on this street.

Right away, I could tell it wasn't working.

The next set of 35 cars were actually going a little bit faster than my baseline set, averaging 27.8 mph.

This part of the experiment unfolded from 11:58 am to 12:10 pm, so drivers may have been in a rush to get to lunch. On the other hand, Mr. Potato Head might have influenced drivers to go faster. Also, he might have influenced them to order french fries.

For the next test, I swapped the Potato Head for this pink tricycle.

A pink tricycle with no rider. Surely this would signal drivers that a child was near the road.

Not everyone was fooled by the pink tricycle.

Many people sped by undeterred. On the other hand, a few people put it together and slowed down considerably. Two vehicles slowed to 16 mph and one crept past at 11.

The first 19 cars drove by at an average of 25.1 mph, and I only had a chance to measure 19 before the experiment came to an end.

A police officer made a U-turn and stopped to have a chat. He asked what I was doing and if I was responsible for the pink tricycle. I explained everything. My neighbors also noticed and defended what I was doing. Also, they laughed a lot. And they took photos.

The officer seemed to appreciate what I was attempting but let me know that I had caused something of a fuss. He let me go with some directions: "You can't have the tricycle in the road there, but you can radar whoever you want."

I collected the pink tricycle and went home. The police aren't usually as pleasant on the second visit.

With the cop parked there, the next eight cars drove by at an average speed of 9 miles per hour (not counting other police cars).

In the end, I found a solution: Pink tricycles work, but to really slow traffic on your street, nothing beats a police car.

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