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Vision professor says Alberta's 'when eyes lock' campaign unfair to pedestrians

A vision scientist says the campaign is a waste of tax dollars.

Kyle Mathewson is a vision scientist who questions the province’s new ‘When eyes lock’ campaign.

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Kyle Mathewson is a vision scientist who questions the province’s new ‘When eyes lock’ campaign.

Traffic safety, it would seem, is in the eye of the beholder.

Alberta rolled out a new traffic safety campaign this month, featuring a pair of eyes above the tagline “The most advanced technology in pedestrian safety: It’s safer to walk when eyes lock.”

But Kyle Mathewson, a vision scientist and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Alberta, took to Twitter to criticize the new advertising this week, arguing it's not only ineffective but also blames the pedestrian for collisions.

“It’s a continuation of a long history in the city and the province of targeting ads to increase safety on our streets, that’s on the pedestrians, instead of the drivers,” he told Metro.

Mathewson said he was prompted to tweet about the campaign after a friend was hit, despite following the campaign’s advice.

“She was looking right at the driver's eyes and he looked right at her and drove right into her,” he said. “So that night kind of gave me the motivation to write this post.”

“Where we are looking isn’t always where we are paying attention to,” he added.

But Tom Fowler, a spokesperson for Alberta Transportation’s traffic safety department, said the campaign, which has placed ads across the province and online, wasn’t meant to place blame.

“It’s about all road users acting with care, being aware of your surroundings and making sure that roads are safer for everyone,” Fowler said. “Making eye contact is really just a safety tip for the pedestrians. That’s sort of standard messaging.”

Fowler added there are already campaigns designed to tackle distracted driving and impaired driving, and this new campaign is just part of an overall strategy.

Mathewson disagrees, arguing the ad doesn’t boost safety overall, as it could give people on foot a false sense of security, especially since they’re the ones who tend to lose out in a collision.

“You are going to go the pedestrian’s funeral and say ‘sorry this was a shared responsibility?’” Mathewson said.

“Driving around, you can have your eyes wide open but mentally you could be thinking about what to have for lunch, or what's playing on the radio.”

He also pointed out the campaign didn’t consider tinted windows, low light, drivers wearing sunglasses and people with vision problems, all factors that make direct eye contact challenging.

"I felt that this ad was not the best way to spend our tax dollars to try to decrease traffic accidents, since the number one cause of traffic accidents is not pedestrians, it’s vehicles.”

Editor's note: The photo caption initially identified the campaign as a city initiative. It was created by the province.

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