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Tyler Cowen

Caution: Debate Over Speed Bumps Ahead

Slowing traffic on a neighborhood street has economic costs and benefits.
Slow it down.

Slow it down.

Photographer: Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A recent report from the U.K. suggested that the country eliminate speed bumps from its roads to ease vehicle passage and limit carbon emissions. This has since given rise to heated debate. In the U.S., homeowners often push for more speed bumps in their neighborhoods to slow drivers, making local routes for deliveries more cumbersome each year. But -- from the point of view of an economist -- are these bumps actually a good idea?

On one hand, the bumps slow down traffic, and that probably saves some lives. Yet the calculus is not so simple, in part because speed bumps bring unintended secondary consequences. Many cars or trucks swerve around them, which is arguably more dangerous than having no obstacle in the first place, or drivers may rev up their engines to accelerate once the bump is past. The constant "bump bump" noises or screeching brakes have led many nearby homeowners to request that the bumps be removed. The bumps may drive too much traffic to alternate routes, and they slow down the response of emergency vehicles.