As state officials unveiled a giant statue of a crash test dummy at its new home in Glen Burnie Tuesday, they deemed it "destined to be a regional landmark."
But towering at five times larger than life and weighing 2 tons, the bright-yellow tribute to safety drew fears it would become a regional source of rubbernecking.
"We had a tremendous amount of thought about that," said John Kuo, administrator for the state Motor Vehicle Administration, whose headquarters became the dummy's final resting place.
The 30-foot androgynous statue debuted at Baltimore's Artscape festival this past summer as a marketing device to raise awareness about seat belts. It lived in storage for months until it was moved this week to Ritchie Highway — as far from the road as possible — to serve as constant inspiration to buckle up.
"It's an awesome reminder," Ragina C. Averella of AAA Mid-Atlantic said. "It's big enough that you can't miss it."
More than 500 people died on Maryland roadways last year, a record low that safety officials both celebrated and found alarming.
"Can you imagine, we only lost 500 people and that's a reason to be happy?" asked Kuo, who said both his siblings died in a car crash when he was 12 years old. "Why do we accept the loss of life on our roads?"
Marylanders wear seat belts about 95 percent of the time, Kuo said, higher than the national average of 80 percent. Along with speeding and driving under the influence, not wearing seat belts is a leading cause of fatal accidents. About half of drivers who die in crashes were not wearing seat belts. And seat belt use drops at night, officials said.
"Seat belts are our best defense against the laws of physics," said Michele Fields, general counsel to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. "Every trip, every seat position, the belt works."
The $63,000 statue financed by a federal grant is officially untitled. State workers nicknamed it "Lamont" in a nod to the "You big dummy" jab frequently lobbed at 1970s TV character Lamont Sanford of "Sanford and Son."
So far, the dummy, which can be seen from blocks away, has drawn mixed reviews.
"Distracting," said motorist Jami King, who first noticed the statue from a gas station across the street. "I would look at it if I was driving. You can't miss it."
Motorist Brenda Davis wished she had.
"Oh, my goodness, that's ugly," Davis said as she pumped gas at a station across the street. "It doesn't belong."
But a few pumps over, Monique Wilson of Glen Burnie stared and considered what she'd seen from the road.
"I saw it and thought, 'Wow, that's bright and yellow,'" Wilson said. "You have to stop to figure out what it is. It's neat. I kind of like it."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times