Speed bumps are an annoying staple of subdivisions and parking lots. But beyond the headaches they give drivers, a new report from Imperial College London is giving people a whole new reason to talk about them. According to the report, the bumps in the road might be taking a toll on the environment.

Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University and a contributor to Bloomberg  has looked into the pros and cons of speed bumps. He says British concern about their toll on the environment may drive reductions in their number throughout that country.

“They’re talking about having no speed bumps for environmental reasons,” Cowen says of the U.K. plan. “Cars and trucks have to slow down and then speed up again, and that means more emissions, more carbon in the air [and] ultimately more global warming.”

But in addition to the toll they might take on the environment, Cowen says there are other reasons speed bumps might be causing more trouble than they’re worth.

“[People] can swerve around the speed bump…[or] might take other routes altogether, which could be more dangerous,” Cowen says. “So even though they look safe, one point I make in the article is you don’t necessarily end up any safer.”

Even though removing speed bumps would be a headache, Cowen says many people’s persistence in pursuing the idea in England is testament to the enormous problems they cause. However, that country might never actually see those changes made.

“In most politics there’s status quo bias, so what we have tends to persist,” Cowen says.

In the U.S., Cowen says, it’s even less likely we’ll see fewer speed bumps any time soon. A growing desire to decrease the speed of traffic in suburban areas bodes well for the future of bumps in the road.

“We have much more federalism than they do so we make decisions more locally,” Cowen says. “Maybe a few parts of this country will start to copy them, but I’m not so hopeful.”


Written by Morgan O’Hanlon.

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  • John April 19, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    One practice you can adopt to be more scientifically credible is never publishing the word “Significantly” without being able to attach a quantity to it. It’s not “significant” unless you can cite a statistic. It’s also not huge, or massive, or “a toll on the environment”. It’s just a thought. And it’s definitely not a “pro” or “con” if it can’t be quantified.

  • john April 19, 2017 at 3:03 pm

    I feel dumber for having listened to, and read this. The basics underlying what is being presented here (which is mostly doubt versus science), are easy enough to explain without burying them beneath layers of “might be”s. There is literally not one smidge of hard science referenced anywhere in here.

    Allow me to explain the science. It all comes down to statistics.

    In producing ANYTHING (roads, traffic controls, parachutes, nails) there are always two risks to manage. Producers risk and consumers risk. Statisticians call these Alpha and Beta risk and they are quantifiable.

    Alpha, producer risk, is the risk of spending too much to make something, and not making a good profit.
    Beta risk is the risk of not spending enough to make something and not getting a good product.
    These two risks are ALWAYS inversely proportional. Increasing one decreases the other.

    So, if I spend too little on parachutes I make, to make more profit, and more of them fail, more people die. My producer risk goes down, the consumer risk goes up.

    If I spend too much on them to produce a perfect parachute, I might make them too expensive and be unable to make a profit, but customers will be guaranteed safety.

    Some products require minimizing producer risk , such as selling cheap commodities like nails. Some require minimizing consumer risk.

    The key is always to strike the right balance.

    In reality, cost can be compared either way. If I make a big profit and too many people die, I might actually lose a lot of money in lawsuits and go out of business.

    Now, in the arena of public policy, which is generally about minimizing consumer risk while make sure that producers can still produce, we have situations arise like Speed bumps. They are installed to minimize consumer risk NOT to the people driving, but to everyone else. And there’s a cost associated with them. That’s the producer risk.

    All this economics professor has managed to say is that OH YAH, it COSTS to manage consumer risk!

    Well duh. Of course it does. Every statisticians and most everyone in any production type job in the world understands this. So? It also costs when people don’t slow down and end up taking too many consumers lives. That is, consumer risk goes up.

    So while he’d like to suggest we should have a world with absolutely no speed controls, he hasn’t really played that out in any sensible economic fashion.

    Here’s how that plays out. YES, we absolutely can have a world with zero speed controls. We build all the roads underground where there are no people, and on different levels so there’s no such thing as an intersection, and we can have a perfect transportation system devoid of any speed controls. Problem is – that costs a LOT OF MONEY. Producer risk also goes up in that scenario.

    So this notion that we should simply eliminate working, extremely low cost control systems like speed bumps, that minimize consumer risk, is fundamentally flawed. All he seems to care about is cost without not a single nod toward “benefit”.

    Of all people who should be able to quantitatively weigh those against each other, I’d expect an Economics professor could do it the best. I’d sure love to see that CBA (Cost benefit Analysis).

    But in lieu of that, sure would be nice to see some better journalism. Texas Standard – this is a seriously lacking story. You’ve put all of us at risk of becoming more stupid by publishing stories like this. Shame on you.