The Big Apple is hauling out the Big Skeleton.

The NY Times City Room blog reported last week that Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Transportation Department seems to be taking a page from the emotionally intelligent signage playbook in an effort to reduce speeding. As the official city press release explains, “This month, a new series of speed boards will be installed featuring digital displays of skeletons when drivers exceed the posted speed limit.”

In other words, if you’re going along within, say, the 30 m.p.h. speed limit, you’ll see this:

But if your lead foot pushes the speed too high, you’ll see this:

Is this idea shrewdly spooky or crudely kooky?

Bonus Singage! Tom Vanderbilt — whose book, Traffic, is utterly fascinating — shares another example (this one from London) of emotionally intelligent signage that aims to improve driver behavior.

11 Responses to “Emotionally intelligent signage comes to Broadway (and other avenues)”

  1. John says:

    While it’s interesting,moremight want to “make the skeleton appear” than anything else. But, if it lights up at 31mph, it might have some effect. For the $$, having a ticket or similar message flashing might have more effect, as no one wants to see that. Adding some random strict enforcemnt might provide the best return on investment.

  2. Catherine says:

    My husband was telling me about these a few days ago, and of course, I thought of you immediately.

    The skeleton reminds me more of kids’ Halloween costumes than actual dead people, so I’m not sure it’s the best choice. I agree with John that many people will try to make it appear and that an image of a ticket would probably be more effective. Good effort though. At the very least it will make people pay more attention to the signage, which might slow them down a bit anyway.

  3. Sweet!

    I keep meaning to post the emotionally intelligent parking ticket I got from the “Parking Monster” the other day in Sarasota, FL at Rosemary Place Condominium.

  4. In the litigious society of America, I’m surprised that this kind of sign was approved. Explanation:

    To someone with PTSD from living/working in a warzone (ie. soldiers) who may have seen bodies that have been mangled, this could easily be a trigger.

    I understand the point of the sign, just curious about some of the unintended effects.

    With Love and Gratitude,


  5. Perry says:

    It will work for a while. I find these ‘you are going too fast’ signs are not useful when there’s a lot of traffic on the road.

    That said – I like the sign

  6. David Lapin says:

    Depends if by DRIVE you mean a vehicle or humans! Doesn’t it raise the whole issue, way beyond road signage, of using fear tactics to DRIVE behavior? We know from you Daniel, and others, that fear tactics are so “last century”! I guess it depends whether your aim is to DRIVE short term behavioral change (nothing like fear for that) or to inspire long term changed attitudes and sustained upliftment. To avoid deaths on the road, appeal to people’s survival drive, and scare them into compliance. When leading people in business or in the classroom rather follow Drive’s thinking and cut the skeletons!

    David Lapin
    Author: Lead by Greatness (

  7. Ingo Holzinger says:


    It’s the surprise factor that makes the sign effective. Fear tactics? Come on. Does any speeding driver think they or their victims will immediately turn into skeletons? Will anyone perceive the skeleton signal a threat? But it is a rather unexpected reminder that “hey, speeding can have grim consequences.”

  8. It’s a self-awareness monitor. The yellow signs that mean slow down, no one sees them anymore. Rebooting the pattern with a clever skeleton sign can change behavior (maybe?!).

    Thanks for the post, Dan.

  9. Daniela says:

    I really love the idea of switching up the signage paradigm, it does make people notice and think. And these are totally cute… though I’m not sure cute is what we’re going for. But these also seem a little distracting. Wouldn’t you be itching speed up a little just to see the effect?

  10. I agree with Daniela, is cute what you need?

    In Poland they drag the car wrecks out of the ditches stick them on stilts and paint them pink.

    In France they have life size models of school children.

    And in the UK we have average speed cameras. It is amazing what knowing you will get fined does for your speed.

  11. Kent says:

    I am not quite sure if there is any different between Malaysia and US. I just thought that the “Slow Down” signboard is not suitable when you use skeleton. The first thing comes to my mind when I looked at the slow down signboard is “If you slow down, you will die”.