Do Speed Bumps Save Lives?

Hi Topspeed,
My friend says that the speed bumps in our neighborhood save lives. I think they are useless. Which one of us is right?

Eric S. from Queens, New York

Hello Eric,

The rationale behind installing speed bumps in most places is that it will force motorists to slow down. Supposedly, a motorist driving slowly is less likely to kill a pedestrian. Hence, the "speed bumps save lives" mentality of your friend. Unfortunately, the exact opposite is true.

Speed bumps, also known as speed humps, speed tables, raised crosswalks, and vehicle deflection devices, are responsible for the needless death of countless people every year. They are a hindrance to emergency response vehicles and they impede the rapid delivery of life-saving services.

Fire trucks, ambulances and other emergency response vehicles must slow to an almost complete stop when encountering speed bumps and then accelerate back to their previous speed. In many instances, this small delay is the difference between life and death for a person trapped in a burning house or someone who has just suffered a heart attack. The delay only gets worse when numerous speed bumps are factored into the equation. Speed bumps also cause other problems such as:

1. Environmental damage. The unnecessary slowing and acceleration of vehicles encountering speed bumps wastes fuel and contributes to air pollution.

2. Vehicle damage. Driving over speed bumps increases wear and tear on vehicles. This leads to higher maintenance and repair costs for vehicle owners. Speed bumps are especially damaging to vehicles when driven over at regular speeds by unaware motorists. Street signs and markings meant to inform motorists of the presence of speed bumps are not always clearly visible.

3. Traffic Congestion. Speed bumps increase travel time so traffic usually shifts to neighboring streets that don't have them. This causes increased road congestion and delays for all motorists.

Speed bumps do force motorists to slow down but they seldom prevent pedestrians from being killed. There are approximately 5,000 pedestrian fatalities per year in the United States and this statistic has remained relatively unchanged even after the widespread installation of speed bumps and similar "traffic calming" devices in many cities.

Here is a quote directly from a comprehensive study on the matter (Traffic Calming: State of the Practice) by the Federal Highway Administration:

"Traffic calming in the U.S. is largely restricted to low volume residential streets. Collisions occur infrequently on such streets to begin with, and any systematic change in collision rates tends to get lost in the random variation from year to year. This limits our confidence in drawing inferences about safety impacts of traffic calming."

Additionally, numerous studies have proven that communities are at far greater risk from delayed emergency response caused by speed bumps and similar traffic calming devices than from speeding vehicles. Speed bumps were created to reduce speeding but one simple fact remains - speeding does not kill people. Only bad driving does. People have been killed by cars going 5mph.

So Eric, you are right about the speed bumps in your neighborhood - they are useless. If you would like them to be removed, send a written request to your locally elected officials.

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