The Dangers of Speed Humps Proved
This note explains how a traffic calming scheme was the direct cause of a serious injury to Anja Szkodowski (picture left) in September 2005. Local residents had objected to certain aspects of a traffic calming scheme in Old Hill, Chislehurst (in the London Borough of Bromley) after it was introduced in 2003. For example local pressure group BBRAG said in June 2003: “The scheme consists of a speed table and 6 sets of split humps. BBRAG has always opposed this traffic calming scheme, except for the speed table at the junction with Brenchley Close. The way the two humps on the lower part of the hill have been implemented appears to be particularly dangerous, with only a single “cushion” in the centre of the road, and in one case white hatching lines to encourage you to drive down the centre of the road! Having such a design on a narrow road, where it is only possible to see a limited distance around the bend in the road seems particularly inept.”
They also pointed out that the single cushions were hidden by dappled shade from overhanging trees in the summer which made them even more dangerous (see picture left – can you see the humps?). Despite several meetings with council staff and councillors, nothing was done, and indeed it was even claimed that there were potential legal liabilities if the humps were removed -
In 2004, at the prompting of local residents a complaint was made to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO). As expected, the LGO rejected the complaints. The complaints were:
1. The original public consultation leaflet was misleading and probably caused residents to support the scheme when they would not have done so had the truth about the accident record been correctly stated.
2. The single humps are not in accordance with government guidance as regards the maximum recommended width as published by the Department for Transport (DfT) in a “Traffic Advisory Leaflet”, and also are in a configuration which is clearly dangerous and not recommended in such guidance. Note that such guidance is laid down as “good practice” to ensure a safe, practical and publicly acceptable implementation of such schemes.
3. The council did not undertake an adequate investigation of the noise, vibration and other inconvenience suffered by local residents and road users as a result of the design of the scheme, despite many complaints.
The LGO effectively said:
On item 1: The residents may not have voted differently if the consultation leaflet had been worded differently, so that is no administrative fault.
On item 2: The DfT guidance is not law and council staff therefore had discretion to adopt some other approach if they saw fit, so again there is no maladministration.
On item 3: The council has promised a further review, so there are no grounds for the LGO to intervene.
As an aside, one can see exactly why so many people are frustrated and annoyed by the response they get from the Local Government Ombudsman. On item 2 for example, if the council was in breach of the law then other remedies are possible, but the LGO was specifically set up to deal with administrative mistakes that adversely affect people and to which normal legal channels do not provide a remedy. Clearly the LGO has totally lost track of its purpose and objectives.
However, a further review was promised and another round of public consultation was also undertaken. But we could not have anticipated that an accident of the kind that BBRAG and many local residents had foreseen, was about to take place.
On the 4th September 2005, Anja Szkodowski was riding a cycle down Old Hill, and did not notice the large, single “cushions” in the centre of the road on the lower part of the hill. Anja was thrown from her bike and was seriously injured. With breaks to her jaw in three places, and other injuries, she spent three days in hospital and is still undergoing extensive repair work to her teeth.
Fortunately she was young and hence made a fairly rapid recovery, but there is no denying that this was a “serious” accident, and indeed a potentially fatal one. And her financial loss was considerable as she was off work for three weeks, apart from the pain and suffering she experienced. (Note: that road traffic accidents are classed as “serious” if there are broken bones or an overnight hospital stay is required).
This accident took place on one of the large cushions placed in the centre of the road on the lower part of Old Hill. Those “cushions” did not accord with recommendations laid down by the Government and the design and positioning of the cushions was positively dangerous. And as Anja herself said: “All in all I went through the most difficult time of my life. Looking back at that incident I truly believe that my accident could have been avoided as there is no need for such speed humps in this road.”
Note also that this is the only “serious” injury suffered by anyone on this road in the last few years, even including the two years before the humps were installed. So instead of preventing accidents, the traffic calming scheme was a direct cause of making them worse. Old Hill was never an accident black spot and in reality has a better record for accidents than many other roads in the London Borough of Bromley. This accident not only highlights the general problems that speed humps cause for cyclists and motorcyclists, but also the wasted expenditure on a road safety scheme that in fact made the situation worse.
Subsequent to the writing of the the above note in 2005, the speed cushions were replaced by speed tables.