The Many Ways We Try to Slow Cars Down

Have you ever considered the irony of producing street vehicles capable of going 100 mph? On the one hand, there is a certain thrill that comes with knowing your car can go that fast. On the other hand, we seem to make every effort – at least in an official capacity – to slow cars down. It truly is ironic.


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Slowing cars down is a matter of safety. We all understand that. Debate enters the equation when we tried to figure out what constitutes a safe speed based on road conditions, traffic, and so forth. What seems a reasonable speed to some might seem either too fast or too slow to others. The result is an ongoing game that pits slower drivers against their faster counterparts and speeders against law enforcement.

Posted Speed Limits Rarely Work

Our first line of defence against cars that would be driven too fast is posted speed limits. You find them all over. Posted speed limits tend to be lower in cities, towns, and villages. Country roads have higher speed limits while motorways offer the highest legally allowed speeds.

Posted speed limits might influence drivers committed to driving within the constraints of the law. But as a percentage, how many of those drivers are actually on the road? According to the UK’s Department for Transport, more than half of all drivers speed on roads with posted speed limits of 30 mph. The number falls to 46% on motorways. Still, that’s a lot.

Truth be told, posted speed limits rarely work in preventing people determined to speed from doing so. As such, we have to turn to other things. Sometimes that means turning to physical barriers intended to inhibit speed among those drivers intent on going faster than they should.

Speed Bumps, Humps, Etc.

The number of physical barriers now deployed on European and North American roads is staggering. For example, speed bumps are fairly common in London. They are found on narrow streets and alleys were speeding cars are especially dangerous. They are even beginning to show up on major thoroughfares.

Other physical barriers include:

  • Speed Humps – These are similar to speed bumps except that they cover the entire width of the road surface. They are often constructed to make them look like a natural part of the road surface rather than something added after the fact.
  • Speed Cushions – Speed cushions are similar to speed humps except that they are not one solid, continuous piece. They are broken up into multiple sections to allow tyres to pass between. They help to slow traffic under normal circumstances while still allowing emergency vehicles to easily pass through.
  • Speed Tables – Imagine taking a speed hump and extending the exit surface far enough forward to allow for a level exit. What you have just imagined is known as a speed table. While still effective, speed tables are kinder to heavy vehicles like trucks and buses.
  • Chicanes – A chicane is an artificial bend in the road that forces drivers to slow down. On especially long stretches of road where excessive speed is a problem, multiple chicanes can make a significant difference.

When these types of physical barriers still do not prove effective, we can go one step further with traffic spikes. A traffic spike is a nasty little piece of equipment that will puncture any tyres travelling across it. Traffic spikes are never found on public roads. However, they are fairly common in parking garages and car parks in some countries.

Speed Reduction Through Deterrence

The whole point of placing physical barriers down is to reduce the speed through the deterrent effect. In other words, we attempt to deter speeders by making the consequences of speeding more costly than the benefits. Having to pay to have a damaged car repaired seems like quite an incentive to mind your speed, doesn’t it?

It is believed that physical barriers like speed bumps and speed humps can, at the very least, knock a car’s front end out of alignment. Such beliefs are completely justified. If you don’t know why take a look at some speed bump videos online. You might be shocked by how violent the impact between car tyres and speed bumps actually is.

The interesting thing to note is that drivers are fully aware of the fact that they can damage their cars by going over speed bumps too quickly. And yet, they do it anyway. For some people, no amount of deterrence is enough. That’s too bad. The few seconds a driver saves by not slowing down are going to have no practical impact on the rest of his/her day.

And so, we will keep making cars capable of going faster than we are legally allowed to drive. We will keep buying them in hopes that someday we will have an opportunity to go that fast. Meanwhile, we will also continue devising ways to slow ourselves down. The whole thing truly reeks of irony.

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