Breaking Speed, Even The Law

India | Public Space | Law

Installed at whim randomly by locals in violation of the law, with the authorities looking the other way, speed breakers harm more than help, writes Gajanan Khergamker

The most customary method for regulating traffic remains the use of traffic calming devices, commonly referred to as vehicle speed reducers. These calming mechanisms aka speed breakers are employed to prevent accidents and often turn into the cause of accidents, injuries and loss of life, if employed incorrectly. 

Sadly, in India, speed breakers are installed at the sweet whim of vociferous residents enjoying the patronage of local political leaders while giving the law a miss.

Across the world, two varieties of speed bumps—vertical and horizontal—are utilised to maintain speeds within acceptable limits in accordance with the law. However, some poorly designed and irregular speed bumps lead to various accidents. Despite this, the focus has shifted towards intelligent speed bumps that are not only safer but also more ecologically sound compared to traditional ones. 

In the fast-paced world, prominent vehicle manufacturers are always striving to create increasingly high-powered vehicles. As technology advances, these companies are designing faster vehicles, often neglecting the environmental impact. This can lead to hazardous speeding and a heightened risk of accidents. The challenge lies in curbing such "over-speeding," the principal cause of fatal accidents.

Presently, both developing and developed nations face considerable difficulties in controlling over-speeding, which is a significant contributor to fatal accidents. Extensive research indicates that over-speeding, combined with a lack of road safety awareness, drunk driving, reckless behaviour, overtaking, traffic rule violations, and distractions such as phone usage and adjusting radios, are the primary causes of accidents.

Driving while fatigued may appear innocuous, yet it has been proven to be a major contributor to fatal accidents. 

Illegal speed breakers are mushrooming across burgeoning cities like Mumbai
(Location: Henry Road, Gateway of India zone at Colaba, Mumbai)

According to a World Health Organisation’s Global Status Report on Road Safety, accidents result in 1.35 million deaths globally. In 2021, states and union territories reported a total of 4,12,432 road accidents, resulting in 1,53,972 deaths and injuries to 3,84,448 individuals. India ranks first in the number of road accidents among 200 countries and accounts for nearly 11 per cent of accident-related deaths globally. 

In accordance with the guidelines established by the Indian Road Congress, dated 12th June 1987, speed bumps in India should be situated on minor roads as per the following directives:

The application of speed bumps is deemed appropriate only under these three specific circumstances:

T-junctions connecting minor roads with rural trunk highways, characterized by relatively low traffic volumes on the minor road yet exceptionally high average operational speeds and inadequate sight distances. These locations exhibit a significant history of fatal accidents, hence the recommendation for a speed bump on the minor road.

Intersections where minor roads meet major roads, and sections within urban areas that fall between intersections, where it is desirable to lower vehicular speeds.

Selected local streets within residential areas, educational institutions such as schools, colleges, or university campuses, hospitals, and similar areas. Additionally, in zones where traffic exceeds the prescribed or safe speed for the area.

Further situations where speed bumps may be employed include:

Any scenario where a consistent pattern of accidents is primarily attributed to vehicle speed. For instance, on hazardous segments following an extended straight approach.

Approaches to temporary diversions.

Approaches to weak or narrow bridges and culverts that necessitate speed reduction for safety reasons.

On the minor arms of unregulated junctions and at railway level crossings.

Sharp bends with inadequate visibility distances.

Areas marked by continuous development, where the road passes through built-up regions and high-speed vehicles pose a substantial threat to pedestrians.

The Indian Roads Congress recommends that speed bumps be constructed with a basic design of a rounded hump (with a radius of 17 metres), measuring 3.7 metres in width and 0.10 metres in height. 

This design aims to achieve an advised crossing speed of 25 km/h for general traffic. 

Additionally, it is suggested that multiple humps be installed at regular intervals based on the desired speed and the acceleration/deceleration characteristics of vehicles. 

The spacing between consecutive humps can vary from 100 metres to 120 metres, measured from the centre of one hump to the centre of another. 

In All, 39 Speed Breakers On 300-Metre Stretch In Colaba!

Violations of the law are galore. A case in point being: On the 300-metre stretch of South Mumbai’s Colaba precinct near Gateway of India, from The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel to Radio Club are a whopping 39 Speed Breakers of all shapes and sizes and installed completely illegally at the whim of fancy-free local residents in the by-lanes and all along Mere Weather Road that runs parallel between the touristy Apollo Bundar Road, along the Gateway of India stretch, and the main Shahid Bhagatsingh Road, connecting Regal to Colaba Market. 

Illegal speed breakers on Mere Weather Road in Colaba, Mumbai

The IRC guidelines, for all practical purposes, are dodged conveniently. While the world’s tourists converge at the zone, the law is flouted with wild abandon. 

That is until a VIP visits the zone, which is often considering the zone’s proximity to INS Shikra, when all the illegal speed breakers are broken and removed overnight: Needless to say, the speed breakers swiftly reappear once the VIP leaves.

History Of Speed Bumps

According to The New York Times, speed bumps were first introduced in Chatham, New Jersey, in 1906. This concept of slowing down vehicles gained attention across various institutions, with its initial practical application in Chatham. 

In 1953, Arthur Holly Compton, a renowned physicist and Chancellor of Washington University, conceptualized speed breakers, which he later referred to as "traffic control humps." Subsequently, he began developing various speed bump designs. 

An Institute of Transportation Engineers article confirmed that the first speed bump was implemented in Europe in 1970 in the Netherlands. A comprehensive report from the British Transport and Road Research Laboratory in 1973 extensively examined vehicle behaviour with different speed bump geometries. 

Although public road installations of speed bumps are prohibited, they are allowed on private roads.

Globally, traffic calming devices, commonly known as speed bumps, are categorised into four distinct forms: speed bumps, speed humps, speed cushions, and speed tables.

Speed Bumps are raised portions of road designed to encourage safe and slower driving. They have a rounded structure and typically vary in height from three to six inches. Speed bumps are often installed in parking lots and on private roads. Due to the discomfort, they cause at higher speeds, they are not commonly used on public roadways. Vehicles encountering speed bumps should ideally slow down to approximately five miles per hour or less.

Speed Humps have a circular, parabolic, or sinusoidal shape. They are slightly raised areas across the road that create a gentle rocking motion in vehicles, leading to a reduction in vehicle velocity to around 15 miles - 20 miles per hour. Speed humps on roads are usually 3 inches to 4 inches in height, with a travel length of up to 22 feet. They effectively control vehicle speed without causing discomfort during driving.

Speed Cushions are a series of small speed humps installed across the road, featuring wheel cut-outs at specific distances. They are a variant of speed humps, designed to control the speed of regular passenger vehicles while allowing emergency vehicles to pass freely.

Speed Tables are flat-topped traffic calming devices, akin to extended and broad speed humps. They are commonly used in residential areas and busy pedestrian zones. The primary purpose of speed tables is to lower vehicle speeds to a safe limit and potentially divert traffic to other routes. 

Among the four types, speed bumps and speed humps are the most utilised worldwide, serving as vertical barriers designed to induce mild discomfort in order to reduce vehicle speed.

Drawbacks Of Speed Bumps And Damage, Injuries Caused

Speed bumps effectively reduce vehicle over-speeding and mitigate the risk of accidents. Numerous studies corroborate their ability to achieve this effect. However, it cannot be denied that speed bumps have also gained notoriety for causing accidents and injuries.

Severe Injuries Caused by Speed Bumps

Research has examined the impact of speed bumps, concluding that while they contribute to accidents, they can also lead to serious bodily harm, including spinal cord injuries, vertebral compression, disk prolapse, neck pain, slip disks, spine injuries, and back pain.

Unscientific and Irregular Speed Bumps Cause Accidents

India's Ministry of Road Transport and Highways reported that nine lives are lost each day due to faulty and unscientific speed bumps, contributing to nearly 50 accidents daily. Reports indicate that when designed poorly, speed bumps can be equally hazardous for bus passengers and other motorists. 

In June 2016, a 20-year-old civil engineer fell from a PMPML bus after hitting a faulty speed bump on the Pune-Mumbai highway at Phugewadi. On the same day, a young girl from Chinchwad fell off a bus due to a faulty speed bump, suffering a severe head injury and eventually succumbing to it.

Negative Effects of Speed Bumps on Vehicles

Speed bumps cause significant damage to vehicles, resulting in damage to critical components such as the front bumper, engine oil pan gasket, brakes, suspension, tube tires, and other internal parts.

Noise Pollution Caused by Speed Bumps

Various sources contribute to noise pollution, including industrial activities, household appliances like mixers and vacuum cleaners, construction, city streets, highways, and public works. Transportation, encompassing road vehicles, airlines, and railways, is a major and consistent noise pollution source. 

A study examining the impact of speed bumps on road noise levels found that noise volume varied between 71 dB to 80 dB without speed bumps, increasing by an additional 5 dB due to speed bumps, particularly for lorries and three-wheelers. The results demonstrated a significant noise volume impact near speed bumps for various vehicle categories.

Design And Development Of Smart Speed Bumps
To Prevent Accidents And Injuries

To address the risk of accidents stemming from faulty speed bumps, several countries have embarked on the development of smart speed bump solutions, including automated speed bumps, hydraulic speed bumps, liquid speed bumps, and three-dimensional speed bumps.

Commendably, in 2016, the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) too introduced an innovative concept in the realm of traffic calming devices by implementing three-dimensional (3D) painted speed bumps on Bajaj Marg. These virtual speed bumps appear as real ones, providing a way to avoid accidents caused by irregular speed bumps.

The risk of accidents from faulty speed bumps is a serious concern

Hyderabad's traffic control deployed an innovative LED speed bump at the KBR Park junction as an experimental measure to manage traffic and deter speeding. The outcome of this experiment will determine further installations across the city. This novel approach has the potential to revolutionise traffic control methods, prioritising both safety and efficiency.

Smartphone-based software known as the Speed-breaker Early Warning System (SWAS) offers an advanced solution for alerting drivers to approaching speed bumps. This application utilises GPS to detect nearby speed bumps and provides timely alerts to drivers, even in the absence of road signs or visible markings. 

This smartphone-based system has the advantage of being both smart and budget-friendly. Another intriguing concept involves Power Generator Speed Bumps, which harness the kinetic energy of vehicles passing over them to generate pollution-free energy. This innovative approach addresses two issues simultaneously: traffic control and energy generation. 

These speed bumps feature a sophisticated linear mechanism with isolated translators that absorb the kinetic energy of vehicles and convert it into mechanical energy through an electromechanical process. This mechanical energy is subsequently converted into electrical energy using a generator and stored in batteries.

Next to the deterrence offered by good old police presence and legal intervention, the most cost-effective and convenient means of controlling vehicle speeds remains speed bumps or speed humps, classified as traffic calming devices. 

These installations are intended for the safety of road users. However, improper implementation and design of speed bumps without adhering to proper parameters, as is the rule, proves destructive to vehicles, contributes to increased traffic noise and augments risk to human life and limb. 

Inadequately designed speed bumps, whether tall or overly steep, can be disruptive for drivers, particularly those with vehicles possessing low ground clearance. Even at very low speeds, many sports cars face difficulties with such speed bumps.

While traditional speed bumps are effective in reducing speeding and preventing accidents, they can also contribute to accidents, injuries, vehicle damage, and noise pollution. Innovative solutions, such as smart speed bumps and power generator speed bumps, are being explored to enhance road safety and overcome the limitations of conventional speed bumps.

Now, while the law where speed breakers are concerned is well in place, as long as petty locals continue to ‘construct’ speed breakers at whim, even garner support from local politicians and civic authorities, it rests upon the judiciary to address, with its overarching wisdom, the issue of illegal speed breakers especially in burgeoning cities like Mumbai, pin the onus of the illegality on the relevant civic entity and pass an order enforcing the law, in Public Interest, to uphold the Right to Life of citizens in the state. 

Till then, more than the risk of speed, human lives remain at risk.

(Coordinated by Manu Shrivastava and Nandini Rao. Field inputs from Shashank Iyer, Rutuja Thakkar, Sneha Jain and Anjali Agrawal)

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