Are there too many speed bumps?

by on April 14, 2017 at 2:14 am in Law, Travel, Uncategorized | Permalink

Probably yes.  That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

Another economic approach would consider whether the private sector, when trying to accommodate customer demand, finds that speed bumps help or hurt business. That’s a kind of market test of the concept, and indeed I often see speed bumps in shopping mall parking lots, to slow down traffic and ease the risk of accidents, including to pedestrians. The mall and parking lot owners have decided that the benefits of greater safety will attract more customers than the inconveniences of driving more slowly, and other possible costs, will put customers off. That is a seat-of-the-pants cost-benefit test, and it suggests some role for the bumps in the broader world.

That said, my personal impression is that these private-sector speed bumps are smoother and gentler than the ones I often find in neighborhoods. When it comes to local roads, the residents are actively trying to keep outside drivers away, whereas the shopping mall and parking lot owners seek the best overall environment for commercial reasons. As a tentative conclusion, I think some speed bumps are a good idea, but many are too obstructive, and perhaps they are too numerous as well; this view is supported by some recent research.

Another angle of the speed bumps debate is how much it revolves around issues of symbolic value, and that in part explains why the discussion can become so heated.

By its very design, a speed bump is a deliberate obstruction with maximum transparency as such. It is sending a message that the social goals of safety or neighborhood quiet are sufficiently important that it is worth slowing people’s progress when they travel. There are many regulations that try to make our lives safer, but most of them are hidden, with nontransparent costs, such as auto-safety regulations as applied through crash tests. A speed bump, in contrast, can work only if people notice it each time. So to the extent a society accepts speed bumps, it is visibly advertising the notion that limits to fast transportation — a symbol of progress — are acceptable in the name of safety and cozy locality.

Do read the whole thing.

1 Gordon Mohr April 14, 2017 at 2:34 am

Speed bumps in Mexico (“topes”) seemed insanely frequent & severe to me, as a US driver. They’re not just on side-streets, to prevent cut-throughs and rushing through residential areas – but on major roads & highways.

A local explained that lacking the budget for other effective speed-limit enforcement/ticketing, they were considered a necessary evil to prevent reckless speeding, despite the discomfort & heavy wear on vehicles.

Does Mexico have too many speed bumps?

2 Ray Lopez April 14, 2017 at 7:44 am

In the Philippines, private citizens put up speed bumps, after bribing a minor official. In Greece, entire busy residential streets are made into ‘zig-zag’ streets with lots of extra parking (a median is put up, and the median zig-zags, and becomes also parking) to the point where a busy street is turned into a quiet parking lot, again with the connivance of local government officials and neighborhood gadflies. In the USA, public streets are turned into private parking on behalf of residents, who are issued permits, so only they can park in the neighborhood. Same as it ever was. To a degree it mimics the private sector’s golden rule: those who have the gold (‘bribes’, ‘petitions’ = power) rule.

3 Michael April 14, 2017 at 2:51 am

Speed cameras don’t create a record of all comings and goings. They take pictures only of license plates that are breaking a speed limit. I haven’t heard the privacy argument used as critique; it’s rather that drivers viscerally hate speed cameras. What appeals about speed bumps is that they can be used Only In My Backyard. People want to be able to drive freely when they’re getting to places, but they want traffic calmed next to their own home. But speed humps are only part of the answer. It’s strking how widely traffic deaths vary between countries and between regions (Delaware 2.5x Massachusetts per mile driven, NYC roughly double the rate of London). Solutions are mostly quite well understood. Maybe the complacent attitude in the US is in the refusal to take action that might upset drivers, or stop them behaving as they are have become habituated.

4 prior_test2 April 14, 2017 at 3:03 am

‘refusal to take action that might upset drivers, or stop them behaving as they are have become habituated’

Precisely, in contrast to Germany. (And one assumes France, Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Belgium, etc.)

5 EastGermanCommisar April 14, 2017 at 10:19 am

Yes, Germany is far superior to those petulant childish Americans. Even the inhabitants of the other European countries that you have listed are somewhat better than Americans.

6 prior_test2 April 14, 2017 at 12:13 pm

No, they just don’t kill as many pedestrians or each other behind the wheel. Much like how that list contains five countries with high speed rail (Denmark should be joining the club in a year, and the Swedes don’t quite run all out most of the time). It doesn’t make the people in those countries superior to ‘petulant childish Americans,’ it just means they have access to a high speed rail network.

7 prior_test2 April 14, 2017 at 3:00 am

‘The mall and parking lot owners have decided that the benefits of greater safety will attract more customers than the inconveniences of driving more slowly, and other possible costs, will put customers off.’

As if the greater safety brought by a lower speed is an inconvenience to those who do not care about others.

Germany has comparably far fewer speed bumps (and those that exist tend to be designed to be considerably more irritating than American style asphalt piles), but that might just be due to the fact that any car driver that injures a pedestrian is essentially automatically charged with more than a mere driving violation. Safety is taken very seriously here, which is why car drivers are held to be at least partially liable whenever an accident involves a bicyclist or pedestrian (motorcycles are kind of a grey zone, legally). But since Germans learn from elementary school on how to handle traffic rules and the importance of everyone following those rules, the idea that greater speed is an inconvenience sounds very strange to a German driver, at least in a shopping area.

On the autobahn, and the numerous 130 kph maximum Bundesstrassen, lacking both pedestrians and bicyclists, other rules apply.

(One can assume that the pedestrian and bicycle rules are fairly European wide, at least in places like Spain, France, Austria, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, etc. The autobahnen ares unique in Europe, obviously.)

8 Saku April 14, 2017 at 3:07 am

Was this a deliberate troll of one of your former commentators?

9 Steven Sailer April 14, 2017 at 3:10 am

Pedestrian deaths have shot way up since 2014, maybe due to smartphones.

Or maybe it’s part of what seems more and more like the Late Obama Age Collapse.

10 prior_test2 April 14, 2017 at 3:19 am

Maybe it’s just a more general let the good times role attitude among the less educated, right?

Or possibly, a part of the rise just might be increasing addiction rates among the better-educated groups, probably due to the genetics of one of those better-educated groups, right?

11 kimock April 14, 2017 at 5:26 am

Tyler’s frequent references to “good readers” implies that he often means something other than what he literally writes. I suspect that there is more here to “speed bumps” than little hills designed to regulate cars’ speeds.

12 londenio April 14, 2017 at 5:50 am

It seems like the speed limit is one of those rules drivers don’t feel they should obey. Germans observe many rules and norms while driving, except the speed limit. The French are much better at sticking to the speed limit, presumably because the fines and license points loss are larger.
Many motorways in Germamy don’t have a speed limit, a fact that make them world known. But they *do* have a recommended max speed of 130 km/h. Yet so many people disregard this recommendation generating substantial negative externalities, from accidents to the general stress to other drivers. The puzzle is why do Germans stick to the laws and follow cooperative norms in pretty much all aspects of civic life, except speeding.
If you ask me, I would set speed limits everywhere, heavily controlled and enforced. Small price to pay to avoid massive externalities.

13 prior_test2 April 14, 2017 at 6:20 am

‘Germans observe many rules and norms while driving, except the speed limit’

It depends on circumstances, but Germans are much less likely to speed significantly (more than 12.5 mph) in any ‘residential area’ (geschlossene Ortschaft), mainly because the cost of regaining your license is not trivial.

‘If you ask me, I would set speed limits everywhere, heavily controlled and enforced. Small price to pay to avoid massive externalities.’

Germany stacks up quite well for fatality rates (admittedly, that may not be a massive externality in one sense), and according to one article, 90% of German fatalities do not occur on an autobahn – mainly of which are speed controlled anyways. ‘In a study released this week at the 2015 International Transport Forum in Leipzig, it was revealed that Australia recorded 5.1 road deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in 2013 — the latest year that figures are available.

This matches France, is about half that of the US (10.3) and South Korea (10.1), and is moderately better than Canada (5.5), New Zealand (5.7) and Italy (5.7).

Your chances of dying in a road crash in Sweden (2.7), the UK (2.8) or Switzerland (3.3) are significantly lower, however, as well as Germany (4.1) — a country with sections of unlimited-speed Autobahns.’

I have predicted the last stretch of unrestricted speed limit autobahn will be the A5 stretch between Frankfurt Airport and Stuttgart, as Mercedes ensures that customers will want to know why Mercedes enjoys the reputation it does for themselves. That Porsche is able to benefit is not a disadvantage, of course.

14 londenio April 14, 2017 at 8:57 am

True that we see fewer accidents than predicted based on speed. It still makes for an unpleasant driving experience to 90% of drivers.

Speed limits are based on traffic. As the East of Germany depopulates, Autobahns there will become a favourite spot to try out a new Porsche. So my prediction goes to any three lane Autobahn North of Berlin (is there any)?

In any case, the self driving car will be here before we get speed limits.

Btw, in NRW, where I live, the absence of a speed limit is meaningless. Foreigners know the word Autobahn. Immigrants quickly learn the word Stau.

15 prior_test2 April 14, 2017 at 12:16 pm

‘It still makes for an unpleasant driving experience to 90% of drivers.’

I would guess the number is considerably smaller, but yes, there are many people in Germany who do not driving on the autobahn.

And yes, a lot of Autobahnen are not all that high speed during the day.

16 Adrian Ratnapala April 15, 2017 at 11:44 am

Muenchener’s speed cheerfully and and vigorously in residential areas. Heck, when on my bike, I made it a point of pride to speed as often as I could. This was easy to do because the limit was the 30kmh!! Needless to say, the vehicles with actual engines zoomed past me.

You are weaseling when you say that speeding less than 12.5 khm somehow doesn’t count. It’s not very much on the Autobahn where normal people do 160. But on a residential street, it makes a big difference.

But in this case the point is not that people are hooning. The point is that they are quite reasonably ignoring a ridiculous law that does not exist to moderate the bahaviour of driver. It exists so that greenies, busybody’s and angry internet socialists can feel good about themselves for their activism.

17 kevin April 14, 2017 at 10:00 am

Are the negative externalities really that great? In certain scenarios, around schools–and probably residential areas in general, they are, but on highways is going 10km over that large of a negative externality? And those high externality zones like schools are (in the US at least) much more heavily controlled/enforced.

18 Mark Thorson April 14, 2017 at 11:01 am

Speeding tickets are far cheaper in Germany than in California. I talked to someone from Germany who was astonished how expensive all of our traffic fines are.

19 prior_test2 April 14, 2017 at 12:52 pm

The tickets are cheaper, up to something like running a red light after being red for more than 1 second. The ticket is still cheap at 200 euros, and the 2 points isn’t all that bad either (the points system is somewhat comparable to Virginia’s). Taking away your license (which will cost several thousand euros to get back) as a light penalty, and possible jail time up to 5 years to add teeth to the license loss, are a bit harsher. German link –

Basically, traffic fines in Germany are less than in the U.S. – on the other hand, it is a lot easier to lose the ability to legally drive, and regaining it costs a lot more (no need to get into the Idiotentest and its cost to retain a license). And yes, apparently (though I have never had this happen to me or anyone I know), a German police officer can decide your license is gone without needing a court decision first, for example immediately after running a red light – anyone who knows better on this detail is welcome to add more information.

20 chuck martel April 14, 2017 at 6:18 am

Pandering to the infantile impatience of egotists who consider their time more important than your time is silly in any part of life but dangerous on residential streets and parking lots. It makes perfect sense to drive 90 mph on I-80 between Big Springs, Neb. and Julesburg, Colo. It’s insanity to drive 30 mph down Surf Street in northside Chicago.

21 Bill April 14, 2017 at 7:51 am

Prior urban design determines the frequency of speed bumps and stop signs, so if we designed better we would have fewer speed bumps.

Consider a neighborhood designed with curvey streets, streets with roundabouts at every three intersections and

Compare that to a neighborhood designed in the fifties on a grid plan with long streets perfect for drag racing and speeding.

A lot of what we do is cleaning up for past errors in design.

22 Slocum April 14, 2017 at 9:09 am

I also think there’s a greater need for speed bumps in residential neighborhoods now compared to the past because Google Maps has made thickets of residential streets much more navigable. People will now try routes that they wouldn’t have in previous decades.

23 Slocum April 14, 2017 at 7:57 am

Around here, speed bumps are almost exclusively installed on certain residential streets to discourage them from being used as short-cuts or alternatives to arterial roads. I’ve never seen them used in local mall parking lots. The biggest intentional impediment to traffic flows seem to be A) road diets (removing traffic lanes in favor of bike lanes) and B) A reluctance to increase road-capacity when it might reduce the need for the dreamed of commuter rail service. After a few years of wrangling, the state DOT finally overruled train-infatuated locals on the latter and is expanding an expressway coming into town.

24 Wil W April 14, 2017 at 8:25 am

There have been a few mentions in the comments about this, but the reason speed bumps are used is that they are inexpensive to the installers. There are many other “Traffic Calming” methods ( which work better than speed bumps. Most of the best ones work on narrowing the width of the road as there is a better correlation between road width and speed than speed limits and speed. ( is one of many studies on this). Of course narrowing a street even by re-striping (most of our neighborhood streets don’t have any striping) is expensive, and expanding sidewalks or other medians is even more expensive.

25 kevin April 14, 2017 at 10:07 am

i always see the narrow street width arguement to slow traffic–but does it actually make things safer? Here’s an article where a pedestrian died because of the overly narrow road designed to slow traffic

26 Hazel Meade April 14, 2017 at 12:35 pm

Yeah, I like road narrowing as a better alternative.
It also creates opportunities to put in landscaping, benches, trees, gardens boxes etc., which are nice amenities.
Speed bumps just require a big pile of asphalt.

27 ant1900 April 14, 2017 at 8:48 am

The Straussian reading here is so obvious that I’m wondering if I’m missing an even more hidden meaning.

28 A Definite Beta Guy April 14, 2017 at 10:37 am

I had to Google to pick up the Straussian Message, so it may not be so obvious…

29 Pipsterate April 14, 2017 at 10:18 pm

The Straussian reading is just the first level of understanding Marginal Revolution. If you want to REALLY read this blog, what you need to do is pick out the first letter of each word in the post, arrange them backwards, read the secret message it spells, and then use your special MRU decoder ring to read the secret message. Then figure out what the Straussian interpretation of the secret message is. Then find the Straussian interpretation of the Straussian interpretation of the secret message.

If my instructions don’t work, then that’s because you’re not reading my comment in the proper Straussian way.

30 mulp April 14, 2017 at 9:09 am

Most regulations are not speed bumps but are like lane stripes, signs indicating intersections, speed limits, crosswalk markings. They merely layout the common law conventions for how individuals and groups interact.

Speed bumps are the public hearings and permit requirements for the cases where individuals and groups routinely ignore the rest of society, placing their benefits over the costs to others.

Cops are the lawsuits leading to court injunctions and judgements for violating the common law. Two issues are raised. Are the regulations consistent with common law. Was there a violation.

Regulations remove speed bumps for the new person in society. The norms of behavior are laid out. But to the self centered person like Trump, he thinks he should get to define society and it’s norms everyone else must conform to. He tries to just drive 60mph over the speed bumps and cops.

31 John Strohecker April 14, 2017 at 9:21 am

Certainly not an apples-to-apples comparison here, but on a recent family trip to Belize I was struck by the number of speed bumps throughout the country. There are only about four major roads that connect most of Belize, and I don’t believe I saw a traffic light during the entire trip – despite covering the length of the country three times during our visit. By way of contrast speed bumps were everywhere and I counted no less than seven different kinds of signage alerting drivers to their presence.

Related: I never saw a single police officer attempting to enforce traffic speed laws.

Instead, what they use is Belize appears to be liberal application of speed bumps, particularly near bus stops or other locations where pedestrian and auto traffic will come into contact. The bumps were larger than the ones that we use in the US and definitely caused drivers to slow down unless they were willing to ruin their car.

My impression of this system is that it is a very cost effective way to manage road speeds and enhance public safety (certainly cheapr than paying police officers to sit by the side of the road and issue tickets) but that it doesn’t have the revenue generating side effect that fines do.

Seems to signal the priorities of the government setting policy, at least to me.

32 kb April 14, 2017 at 9:42 am

If you hit a speed bump at 3X the speed limit you generally don’t even feel it.

33 John Strohecker April 14, 2017 at 9:51 am

In the US, sure. In Belize, where the bumps are bigger, if you hit it at 3x of speed you are either going to be airborne or you are going to bottom out and destroy your car.

34 kb April 14, 2017 at 10:16 am

Just my way of responding to Tyler’s symbolism and my disdain of complacent cozy locality.

35 The Other Jim April 14, 2017 at 10:36 am

We need a nationwide speed limit of 20mph.

If it saves just one life, it’s worth it.

(Or does that argument only work for gun control people? I don’t care. I’ve decided that being a Statist is very easy and fun, so I’m running with it.)

36 Lord Action April 14, 2017 at 11:37 am

I am vaguely surprised our friendly government didn’t try to encourage fuel economy by limiting the capacity of gas tanks, by analogy with magazine limits.

37 A Definite Beta Guy April 14, 2017 at 11:56 am

Manual transmission only: full auto is bad dontcha know.

We should probably ban assault cars as well, defined by, say, spoilers on the back. Civilians don’t need spoilers. Also, if auto-makers sell cars that might theoretically fit a spoiler, we should ban those, too, per the Advanced Legal Theory supplied by MA AG Maura Healey.

Diesel should probably be banned, too. Certain classes of fuel are too dangerous in the hands of civilians.

38 Walt G April 14, 2017 at 10:54 am

To the robots, road bumps will be curious historic algorithms.

39 TallDave April 14, 2017 at 11:11 am

Haven’t seen a speedbump outside of a mall in years, but I’ve been living in planned suburban communities. I remember they were common in my college town, though, especially on campus.

40 The Cuckmeister-General April 14, 2017 at 11:41 am

Well everyone already knew you were a dullard cuck – that’s why you even read this site anyway!

41 Here in Portugal April 14, 2017 at 12:29 pm

Portugal is full of speed-triggered red lights… occasionally with photo enforcement for running the red. They’re super effective with, I think, a lot of the effect coming from the fact that you make everyone else stop as well and you don’t wanna be a jerk.

Not always sensible in terms of placement or the chosen speed cap, but oh well.

We also have lots of speed humps but most cars can take them at a pretty good clip unlike the more severe American style, and they almost always double as sidewalks.

42 Here in Portugal April 14, 2017 at 12:30 pm

sidewalks crosswalks

43 Pshrnk April 14, 2017 at 1:06 pm

“The mall and parking lot owners have decided that the benefits of greater safety will attract more customers than the inconveniences of driving more slowly, and other possible costs, will put customers off.”

NO. The mall and parking lot owners hope to benefit by avoiding the speed bumps know as personal injury attorneys.

44 Hoover April 14, 2017 at 2:59 pm

To the extent that speed bumps make for an uncomfortable ride, they punish everybody, including the folk who drive under the speed limit. That makes them unfair.

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46 TuringTest April 18, 2017 at 9:56 pm

Tyler’s analysis is flawed, as his essay does not distinguish between smooth “bumps” (which only require the driver to slow down) and sharp “humps” (which force the driver to stop).

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