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Keven Moore: Detectable warning pavers are flawed with unintended consequences

Everyone has their own set of pet peeves and one of mine is found when entering grocery stores, retail outlets, pharmacies and restaurants. They are called detectable warning pavers, better known as those damn yellow bumpy things.

With a family of five, an overflowing grocery cart is inevitable – so one must navigate through those rattle traps with extra caution, or else precious groceries will certainly take a tumble.

Let’s just say that these detectable warning pavers are not very “grocery cart friendly, ” and over the years since their invention they have been responsible for the destruction of thousands if not millions of gallons of milk, cartons of eggs, and jars filled with pickles, salsa, and jelly.

These ground surface indicators are designed to help people with a visual impairment determine the boundary between a sidewalk and a street, where there is no curb to warn them (Wikimedia Photo)

These ground surface indicators are designed to help people with a visual impairment determine the boundary between a sidewalk and a street, where there is no curb to warn them (Wikimedia Photo)

When pushing a cart of groceries over theses truncated domes I sometimes wonder just how hard it is for someone in a wheelchair to navigate through them.

Many of us have cursed these teeth rattling mine-fields while wondering what genius thought placing them in front of a grocery store was a good idea. But have you ever questioned exactly the purpose behind these raised bumps?

As a safety and risk management consultant who has worked with a couple of grocery store chains over the years, my very first guess back in the day was that they were designed to stop runaway grocery carts or baby strollers from rolling out into traffic. Now that would make sense, right?

Then I began noticing those bumps popping up on many sidewalks that met the corner of intersections and then I eventually connected the dots.

It turns out that detectable warning paving was designed as a form of markers, and are also called truncate domes or tactical pavers. These ground surface indicators are designed to help people with a visual impairment determine the boundary between a sidewalk and a street, where there is no curb to warn them.

These detectable warnings are a distinctive surface pattern of domes detectable by cane or underfoot to alert people with vision impairments of their approach to street crossings and hazardous unprotected drop-offs near train stations. They are used to indicate the boundary between pedestrian and vehicular routes where there is a flush instead of a curbed connection.

The original tactile paving was developed by Seiichi Miyake in 1965. The paving was first introduced in a street in Okayama City, Japan, in 1967. Its use gradually spread throughout Japan, and then eventually around the world.

The United States picked up their use in the early 1990s, after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which originally required detectable warnings for curb ramps (that is, ramps where the curb is cut) and for the edges of railway platforms in the United States. In 2010 the ADA Design Standards were revised to leave out the requirement for detectable warnings on curb ramps precisely because they were a hazard in some cases, but government agencies and businesses unfamiliar with the change continue to install them.

In the beginning, most of the detectable warning pavers were yellow. The color has since sometimes changed to match the pavement surface when needed, for example in the front of most public buildings or hotels.

The Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) added some formality to the use and design of these detectable warning pavers in July 2001 by adding formality in the size, design, and distance between each dome and location for these detectable warnings pavers, — spawning a new multi-million dollar industry which created hundreds, if not thousands of jobs nationwide that are still thriving today.

With the improvement the slip, trip and fall hazard from these detectable warning pavers diminished somewhat.

However, but because these domes are still elevated they still serve as a hazard as I have seen first-hand able bodied women in high heels fall and twist an ankle while walking across them. I have even witnessed my own kid catch a flip-flop on one of the raised bumps causing a skinned knee.

The greater concern is that these raised mini-domes are terribly unsafe for unstable for elderly people, especially those that walk with walkers and canes. Over the years many have lost their balance and have fallen resulting in broken hips, arms, and collar bones.

The fact is even everyday pedestrians as well as the visually impaired still find these detectable warning pavers to be controversial from a safety perspective, because the raised bumps make it very difficult for those that are mobility impaired.

Many of those who use manual wheelchairs secretly complain, as they don’t want to come across as being insensitive to those that are visually impaired and want to maintain unity within the disabled community.

The issue is that people in wheelchairs need to use momentum to push themselves up and down the curb ramp but some times the dots are just too bumpy. The bumps could potentially stop a wheelchair dead in its tracts and throwing the rider out on to the pavement which could end with broken bones. For those with spinal cord injuries, these truncated domes have also been known to trigger muscle spasms.

Therefore, the question is should one disability trump another disability? That’s a tough question because we should provide accommodations for the needs of all people with disabilities.

I realize the detectable warning pavers were designed for the good of one disability, but unfortunately they can be a hazard to others. This is a classic example of the law of unintended consequences. This is exactly why in my profession we revisit our recommendations for change. It is important to remember that one solution may create another problem.

Now I am not an engineer by trade, but I have stayed at a few Holiday Inns and I believe that the Department of Justice who oversees the ADA laws, needs to seriously consider redesigning these detectable warning pavers for the sake of these unintended consequences.

I would suggest leaving out sections of the truncated domes and construct them with wide enough gaps built into the design for wheelchairs, strollers and even my grocery cart to fit through. This small change can make a huge difference in improving the safety of people with mobility impairments, and will help get my groceries home safely.

Be Safe My Friends!


Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.

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  1. Eve Eastteam says:

    Thank you Mr. Moore!
    I have hated these “damn yellow bumpy things” from the beginning!
    They are installed everywhere and in strange configurations, making them painful to walk on and push grocery carts over.
    I truly hope someone will take heed of your well thought out article and redesign them for the safety of everyone!

  2. Sandra Finch says:

    Thank you. I had never walked on a paver until the day I was leaving Whole Foods in Ann Arbor, MI. I slipped with one foot and caught my toe with the other foot. Down forward in both knees to my arms then face nose and head. After 10 hrs in the ER , I learned what I slipped from. Fractured nose and broken arm which required surgery and two screws. Hence , never will I walk on paver area again.

  3. Bill Gilligan says:

    my wife just fell walking on one of these and broke three teeth numerise scrapes and bruises . I don’t know how we’ll pay for all this dental work but we will .T

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