Air pollution policy shambles sees speed humps removed

twenty is plenty for us

The shambles that is the British government’s policy on air pollution has taken a surreal twist as it transpires councils in England will be funded to tear up speed bumps on the basis they cause pollution as drivers accelerate between them. In a perfect example of political dis-jointed thinking, it seems likely that fewer traffic humps will increase vehicle speed, thereby increasing the road danger that dissuades folk from walking and cycling.

The government has misinterpreted guidance from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, which says that “where physical speed reduction measures are used to reduce road danger and injuries, consider using them to encourage drivers to maintain a reduced, steady pace along the whole stretch of road, rather than road humps that may increase acceleration and braking-related emissions”.

A spokeswoman for NICE the BBC this week: “We don’t say anything about ripping up road humps and getting rid of them – we just want to promote smoother driving. Whenever we make a recommendation about considering any measures other than speed humps, the media reports it as us recommending getting rid of speed humps – which we are not.”

speed bumps traffic calming

Traffic speed, road danger and air pollution all look set to rise as traffic calming measures are removed

The speed hump debacle follows on from the news that the British government had bowed to legal pressure over its lack of progress on air pollution. The daft idea of removing traffic calming measures forms part of new plans spurred by the threat of legal action brought by a group of activist lawyers called Client Earth. Ministers have announced a ban on all new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040. However, in 23 years most cars will be electric or hybrid anyway.

Not only is the government’s pledge to eventually ban the cars that are powered solely by an internal combustion engine rather meaningless, the fact they have made it at all has been is down in large part to the legal action it has faced over the poor quality of our air. In fact. a judge had said its original plans to tackle air pollution were so poor as to be unlawful.

Air pollution poses a risk to public health that costs the country up to £2.7bn in lost productivity each year it contributes to the premature death of up to 40,000 people.

Plans announced this week include money to subsidise electric cars, low-emission taxis, the retrofitting of buses with clean air filters and £1.2bn for cycling and walking. However, many have recognised that the plans will not have the immediate effect that is so badly needed. Many have called for a nationwide implementation of London’s forthcoming ‘Toxic Charge’ of £10 per day on 10,000 of the oldest, most polluting vehicles entering the city.

Wouldn’t it have been easier with pay-as-you-go road pricing?

The short answer is yes and it’s something the ETA has been advocating for 20 years. If a previous government had had the political will and bravery to implement a road pricing scheme, our air would already be far less polluted, congestion on the roads would already have been eased and, arguably, more of us would already be driving electric cars.

Ethical insurance, however you travel

The ETA has been voted Britain’s most ethical insurance company 2017.

The Good Shopping Guide each year reveals the good, the bad, and the ugly of the world’s companies and brands, with a view to supporting the growth of social responsibility and ethical business as well as a more sustainable, just society.

Beating household-name insurance companies such as John Lewis and the Co-op, we earned an ethical company index score of 89 – earning us joint-first place with Naturesave.

The ETA was established in 1990 as an ethical provider of green, reliable travel services. Twenty seven years on, we continue to offer cycle insurancetravel insurance and breakdown cover  while putting concern for the environment at the heart of all we do.

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  1. Jon R


    Speed bumps are a crazy form of traffic calming — I read somewhere (sorry, no reference) that places in the Netherlands trialled and abandoned them, just as we started putting them in… yet we carried on installing them all over the country to this day. Obviously they shouldn’t be just removed, where some form of traffic calming is needed. The message needs to be that they should be systematically removed AND REPLACED with other better forms of ‘traffic calming’. Simply making a fuss about their removal fails to communicate the (slightly) subtler issue that they are just the wrong solution to a problem, rather than a good or bad idea in themselves. While your article kind of says this betwen the lines, I am concerned by the spin on it.

    • The ETA


      What is your suggested replacement? I suspect there is a different driving culture in the Netherlands. Here in Britain, until we have automatic speed limiters on all cars – technology that is likely to form part of driverless cars when they arrive – it would be folly to remove speed bumps. The only viable alternative at present is average speed cameras, but these are too expensive to cover all roads that would need them. In answer to the problem of people speeding up in between speed bumps (and thereby causing excessive pollution), logic would dictate that the answer is to double or triple the number of bumps.

  2. Jim Clark


    What do you expect from a government that crawls around Trump and is told what to do by Murdoch.
    White van man dictates transport policy in Britain

  3. Tim Sinclair


    Well, I’m all for removing speed bumps and all against tax-per-mile ideas.

    I’m against speeding and all for punishing offenders where it hurts – in the pocket. Average speed cameras proliterate. Just like bus lane cameras, introduce a lot more in restricted speed areas.

    The technology already exists to control the flow of traffic – traffic lights, pelican crossing, public transport time tables, and street/road cameras just all require linking up to be controlled by a super AI computer.

  4. Matthew


    In my experience the central speed bumps encourage some motorists to get too close to me as they attempt to straddle them. I also believe that slowing down and speeding up must create more pollution especially from most of the smoky private hire and taxis in my area.

  5. michael


    I’m also in favour of removing speed bumps. Here in Redditch we have a road – Easemore Road – which is part of National Cycle Route #5. This is a long downhill, a major bus route & it has speed bumps installed all the way down. The bumps are positioned so that the buses can straddle them & cyclists can also avoid them by keeping close to the nearside kerb. Good planning you may think.
    The problem? Well those in charge of roads around here chose not to ban parking, understandable as many of the houses do not have off-road parking available. The result? Almost invariably parked cars, so buses have to move out to miss them, sometimes going completely over onto the wrong side of the road to straddle the bumps on the other side. As for cyclists, they too have to move out & either risk going onto the wrong side or going over the dreaded bumps.
    My solution to control speed (after removing the bumps) would be to install a speed camera at each point where the removed bump used to be. Let those who choose to speed pay for it, if the fines are large enough they’ll soon slow down.

    • The ETA


      Average speed cameras are an extremely effective of enforcing limits – even in urban areas, but unfortunately they are considered prohibitively expensive.

  6. John Fletcher


    Get rid of speed bumps! None of us wants to be the cyclist with a spinal injury in an ambulance that has to go over speed bumps! Many of them inflict terrible but almost invisible sidewall damage to car tyres risking blow-outs; others risk dismounting any cyclist who hits them at (legal) speed. Let’s move towards blurred urban zoning – no kerbs, priority to pedestrians, then cyclists, and finally car drivers who should be deemed at fault for any collisions they are involved in unless they can prove otherwise. And yes, I am also a car driver.

    • The ETA


      Blurred urban zoning and strict liability in law are long overdue, but do you think our car-centric culture here in Britain would embrace it? I think driverless car technology has the potential to limit every vehicle in urban areas to 20 mph (or less where appropriate), whether the driver likes it or not. It’s introduction is getting closer.

  7. Rob Lewis


    I agree with the first three comments. I loathe speed bumps, for the reasons stated above. One of my cyclist friends ended up in hospital after hitting a speed bump – he was cycling at the back of a group, and didn’t see the bump due to the cyclists in front of him.

    • The ETA


      Cycling in a group brings with it its own challenges. If the other cyclists are part of one group, it makes sense to issue hand or verbal warnings to those behind as many hazards will not be visible to those behind. At the moment, speed bumps are a necessary evil because the simple truth is that drivers cannot be trusted to adhere to speed limits.

  8. David Beacham


    I think we are missing the point about speed bumps, they are supposed to reduce speed but people complain that they are dangerous and damage their cars or encourage speeding up and slowing down. Am I alone in thinking that more speed bumps would stop the accelerate/slowing issue? If it damages you car you are going too fast and again missing the point, it is not the bump that is the problem! As a cyclist I like to see a gap so you can get through, as a driver I prefer regular bumps that encourage a constant speed rather than ones you can’t easily see. I believe in Portugal they have traffic lights that force motorists to stop and wait if they are speeding, this sounds interesting. We cannot surely be happy with 24,000 people killed or seriously injured on our roads? (Government figure for 2016) If that was a war zone imagine the outcry?

    • The ETA


      Agreed – there’s a terrible skewed logic to removing speed bumps because drivers speed up between them. Drivers know perfectly well that on a 20 mph road, the bumps are there to enforce the limit so answer may very well be to install more.

  9. Jim Clark


    I agree with David Beacham.
    As a car driver for over 50 years, I can’t understand the hatred of speed bumps, then even without the bumps I drive well below 30 MPH in built up areas. When I was learning to drive in the 60s I was told adjust your speed to the conditions and expect the unexpected. Mind you the area I lived then had a steel works and several coal mines, (shows how long ago) some of the roads near the docks were shared with trains which were better than speed bumps.

  10. Hilary


    Education of drivers is a vital point not mentioned here.

    Most of my drive to work is through 20mph zones but nearly every driver ignores the speed limit and the very few such as myself who stick to it get a huge amount of bullying from other drivers, consisting of tailgating, flashing lights, dangerous overtaking.

    Bus drivers and other commercial drivers ignore it. Even the police (I mean those not on emergency calls) ignore it, which isn’t exactly setting a good example 🙁

    These drivers all need to be educated and then hopefully they’ll set a good example to others…

  11. Dave


    The concept of adding artificial road hazards to promote safety is utterly illogical. Road humps DO increase deceleration and acceleration and in turn fuel consumption and pollution. Curb build-outs are some of the most lethal artificial hazards ever conceived. Try spotting one in the snow. Traffic Calming is a fundamentally flawed concept and typically results in anything other than calm. Road humps damage vehicles and waste millions of pounds in suspension repairs and accelerated wear and tear each year. As always, those who are going to speed will do so regardless of whatever the speed limit is and will ignore bumps in the road. The law abiding however will comply sheep-like and drive at 20mph everywhere = real problem not solved.

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