It’s estimated that air pollution contributes to 25,000 deaths in England annually, and with many cities pumping out pollutants that exceed legal limits, the government is under pressure to act.
The environment secretary Michael Gove has acknowledged that something needs to be done to slash air pollution in the UK and in a 98-page document, he suggests that getting rid of speed bumps on roads could tackle this pervasive problem.
Why are speed bumps being targeted as a strategy to cut air pollution? Speed bumps are designed to make drivers slow down. Although this is effective at killing speed, when a car is forced to decelerate and then accelerate, it increases toxic emissions from the tailpipe.
Studies have shown that car emissions are doubled around speed bumps. In fact, Imperial College London concluded that 98% more nitrogen dioxide is emitted from diesel cars when driving over speed bumps, in comparison to driving over road cushions, which are narrower and shallower. In the study, researchers also found that petrol cars can produce 64% more nitrogen dioxide, 47% more particulate matter and almost 60% more carbon monoxide when driving over speed bumps.
Speed bumps can also delay emergency service vehicles, who often need to respond quickly to a life-threatening call.
The government argues that if councils get rid of speed bumps, it will slash air pollution levels and ultimately save lives by reducing respiratory health problems, but road safety campaigners are not convinced. They insist that speed bumps reduce the occurrence of road accidents (especially around schools) and that their introduction has dramatically cut road deaths over the years.
If speed bumps were removed, they say casualty figures could start to rise again. Crucially, campaigners believe that children will no longer feel safe walking or cycling to school if speed bumps were banished, and they would be forced to be driven by car instead. With more cars on the road, this wouldn’t cut pollution levels.
So, what other actions can be taken? Government officials believe that councils need to optimise traffic flow to reduce air pollution. Aside from removing speed bumps, this could include improving road layouts and junctions.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) argues that schemes to ban cars from leaving their engines on outside schools could also be introduced, and that home builders should design new houses with the living room at the rear, away from busy roads. They also suggest separating bicycle lanes from cars on busy roads using foliage, if possible. Speed bumps could also be replaced with signs that display a driver’s speed, and we could make more use of speed cameras and introduce variable speed limits on busy roads.
Government ministers are keen to introduce new methods to cut air pollution before being forced to hit drivers with taxes, particularly those who own a diesel vehicle.
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