There is nothing that irks me on the road quite like speed bumps. They exist solely because some group of people have decided that I don’t know how to drive safely. Long Island doesn’t have many areas with them; usually just private roads in apartment complexes where they’re trying to discourage thru-traffic. I understand this, but I think it’s backwards to punish the 95% of drivers who will use those roads, e.g. the tenants who are paying for it, to prevent the 5% who may or may not actually speed in a residential area.
Recently, I came across a private community that had a single access point for entry and five speed bumps. These bumps were on slopes and may have, at one point, been painted white, and were very difficult to see. One was marked by a tiny road sign that indicated it was there, in one direction—to people leaving the community. The first speed bump was located just feet from the entrance, making it difficult to react to when you turned in, and it was completely redundant on the way out, since the exit was bounded by a stop sign. So drivers had to slow down for the speed bump before they slowed down for the stop sign immediately after. Why was it there?
Florida would have speed bumps on nominally public roads. Where I drove, the Fort Lauderdale area, most public roads were huge 6 to 8 lane monstrosities. There were no speed bumps there, or there would have been blood, but turn off any main thoroughfare and you wouldn’t know what you were going to encounter. Often it was cul-de-sacs, and often those cul-de-sacs were littered with speed bumps designed to keep traffic bobbing up and down at 10 miles per hour, between bumps of course.
I know the idea is safety. They design roads with speed bumps in areas that have pedestrians, especially children. But again, speed bumps punish good drivers. Dangerous drivers may be discouraged by them, but they’re not learning to drive better because of them.
There is an article in The Atlantic describing why driving in America is so screwed up by people trying to make things safer. Because of the ubiquity of signage and prohibitions, we’re creating drivers who react slower and don’t use foresight to consider driving conditions.
Consider the stop sign. It seems innocuous enough; we do need to stop from time to time. But think about how the signs are actually set up and used. For one thing, there’s the placement of the signs—off to the side of the road, often amid trees, parked cars, and other road signs; rarely right in front of the driver, where he or she should be looking.
Then there’s the sheer number of them. They sit at almost every intersection in most American neighborhoods. In some, every intersection seems to have a four-way stop. Stop signs are costly to drivers and bad for the environment: stop/start driving uses more gas, and vehicles pollute most when starting up from rest. More to the point, however, the overabundance of stop signs teaches drivers to be less observant of cross traffic and to exercise less judgment when driving—instead, they look for signs and drive according to what the signs tell them to do.
The author, John Staddon, is from the UK, where they use traffic circles instead of stop signs at many intersections. I’m not a fan of traffic circles, or roundabouts, but this may change my opinion:
Roundabouts in the U.S. are typically large. But as drivers get used to them—as they have in the U.K. over the past three or four decades—they can be made smaller and smaller. A “mini-roundabout” in the U.K. is essentially just a large white dot in the middle of the intersection. In this form, it amounts to no more than an instruction to give way to traffic coming from the right (that would be the left over here, of course, since the Brits drive on the left).
This makes perfect sense. Roads don’t have to be widened, and it trains drivers to be cautious at intersections. Late at night, when I’m crossing service roads with traffic lights, I still slow down going through them, because, even though I have the right-of-way, drivers on the service road act as if they’re on the actual highway. Too many times, I’ve seen drivers blow through those red lights as if they weren’t there.
The article concludes with this, “…U.S. traffic policies are inducing a form of inattentional blindness in American drivers,” and I couldn’t agree more. Yes, I am advocating for fewer signs and “safety” features on the road. Driving is something that takes skill and constant vigilance, and it’s time for both drivers and traffic laws to grow up.
Posted by Jonathan at 09:48 AM, 05 July 2008