Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Traffic: Getting the Hump

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Traffic: Getting the Hump

Article excerpt

When Alistair Darling recently announced that money raised from speed camera fines would no longer be used solely to fund more cameras, you would have thought the traffic libertarians would have been pleased. But no, the cash was being ploughed back into general road safety, and that could mean only one thing: more speed humps, those concrete expressions of the nanny state which are almost as hated as the cameras.

Humps have been around since the early 1970s, when they appeared on a few experimental sites and acquired their cuddly nickname, "sleeping policemen". In the 1980s they were installed widely on rat-runs and were even regarded as fitting objects for middle-class activism: Kenneth Clarke, as under-secretary of state for transport, once suggested that local groups might club together to pay for humps in their area.

By the mid-1990s the government was allowing local authorities to put them virtually anywhere and to construct different types, with varying levels of what the Department of Transport quaintly called "discomfort performance". Alongside the classic kerb-to-kerb round-top humps, we now have "thumps" (cheap thermoplastic ones), "sinusoidal" humps (with a shallow gradient), "speed tables" (with a flat top) and "speed cushions" (which allow buses through more easily).

Councils favour humps because they are a cheap way to cut speeds in so-called "home zones", but not everyone is so keen. In 2002 a man campaigning solely on the issue of abolishing humps won an election in a Derby council ward. A year later Barnet Council began flattening its humps, which led to a row with the Greater London Authority. …

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