Speed humps and bumps are everywhere. Their main aim is to force drivers to slow down in areas that are likely to be full of children or heavy pedestrian traffic. So far, quite reasonable. It is perfectly logical to use speed bumps as a simple, unobtrusive measure to prevent accidents from happening.


But a certain Mr Gove seems to disagree.

In July, he announced that councils should ‘optimise traffic flow’ and get rid of humps all together. His suggestion for tackling traffic in crowded areas was to improve road layouts instead.

The reason for such radical change is the suggestion that speed bumps actually double vehicle emissions by forcing drivers to speed up and slow down again over and over. This means that they are revving up the engine and spilling out more nitrogen dioxide. Diesel cars, already in the spotlight for causing too much damage in emissions are, unsurprisingly, the main perpetrators.

So the question is: are we willing to pay for a reduction in accidents with an increase in emissions?

Well, it’s complex.

For a start, the number of sales of new diesel cars is already down since the emissions crack down and alternatively fuelled vehicles such as hybrid and electric cars are on the rise. This suggests that the future of emission-free cars is approaching slightly faster than we all might think. If this is true, then ripping up all those speed bumps now seems a bit melodramatic. Especially when we all know that the real emissions villain is the meat industry.

Another thing to consider is the location of speed bumps and their practicality. Speed bumps are designed to calm traffic without any major changes to a road. They can be added or taken away quickly so even if you only want a single afternoon of slower traffic, you can achieve it without difficulty. By strategically placing speed bumps, there is no need for drivers to speed up and slow down to such a huge degree. In fact, speed bumps are really meant to keep cars within a given speed limit.

Even if we park these arguments for now, digging up concrete speed bumps and humps will be very expensive. Local councils should receive funding for reprogramming lights and changing road layouts, but given the scale of the operation, it’s difficult to see how far that money will go. Not to mention that once the concrete speed bumps are removed, the road will need resurfacing.

As the argument continues, it seems that for now at least, the car-slowing, life-saving bumps in the road will stay, emissions and all.

But are we all missing a trick here?

Recently, Ísafjörður, a small fishing town in Iceland tried a new method to slow cars down. Rather than put bumps on the road, they have painted an illusion instead giving motorists the impression that there is a floating pedestrian crossing in their midst. This small trickery looks amazing enough to want anyway but if it also works, well, that might just be the answer we were all looking for …