Safer or Just Slower? Speed Bumps and Roundabouts

When you think about traffic innovations like the speed bump, bodybuilding may not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, there are a few people who might think of a man named Tom Owen as they idle through speed bump-laden parking lots.

Tom earned the title of “Human Speed Bump” the hard way. He demonstrated his incredible core strength by letting nine trucks drive over his body in 2009. The combined weight of those trucks was about 30,000 pounds. While Tom’s feat of superhuman strength put his life in danger, traditional speed bumps have a modest beginning that has played a crucial role in traffic safety.

Increasing Safety One Bump at a Time

The first known instance of a speed bump was recorded by The New York Times on March 7, 1906. The newspaper reported that a new sign that read “Warning – Raised Crosswalks” was about to appear in Chatham, N.J. Built with flagstones and cobblestones that were five inches high, The New York Times wrote that although building these speed bumps had been discussed in other areas to prohibit speeding, “Chatham is the first place to put it in practice.”

Today, speed bumps still play an important role when it comes to traffic safety. The Portland Bureau of Transportation reports that streets which have had speed bumps installed see “a 39 percent decrease in crashes per year.” Tom Owen’s success rate is currently unavailable.

Preventing Accidents in a Roundabout Way

Cities like Paris andWashington,D.C.were built to feature traffic circles within their roadways. On a smaller scale, the modern roundabout has worked wonders to improve safety and regulate traffic flow.

Letchworth Garden City is home to theU.K.’s first roundabout, which dates back to 1909. The city’s website says that “town architects Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin introduced this now common road junction to this country as part of the master plan for the Garden City.”

Development continued years later. The BBC reported that in the 1960s, a British engineer named Frank Blackmore is largely responsible for the mini roundabouts we see in place of suburban intersections today.

According to the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), the first modern residential roundabout in the U.S. was built in theLas Vegassuburb of Summerlin, Nev. in 1990. The nation’s first modern freeway roundabout followed in 1995, at the I-70 interchange in Vail, Colo. ADOT reports that the benefits of roundabouts include a 90 percent reduction in fatal crashes, as well as a 75 percent reduction in crashes that result in injury. There are environmental benefits as well, which include reduced fuel consumption and pollution, as well as less traffic noise, thanks to fewer starts and stops.

Although these features may slow you down along your intended route, the speed bump and the roundabout aim to save lives and prevent accidents. And fortunately for Tom Owen, we can build them out of asphalt or concrete.


Photo courtesy of