Speed Bumps May Cost Lives In Emergencies

Ambulances, fire crews are losing valuable time on city’s `calm’ streets


Speed bumps are sprouting like mushrooms on roads in my neighbourhood. A new sign warned of yet another bump to be installed, the third street in the area to succumb to these traffic-calming devices in the past few years.

Are such drastic safety measures really necessary?

The justification is: speed kills. I agree that speed limits should be obeyed; I’m just not convinced building bumps in the road is the best solution, or in the best interest of the community. It’s no deterrent to bad driving, the true culprit. To control that, we need effective policing.

In my neighbourhood, there’s no way to avoid the maze of speed bumps – a big worry if you drive a sports car. To protect my car’s lower front end, I inch over the bumps. It’s different when I drive my SUV.

A bigger concern for the community is that by slowing traffic with speed bumps, emergency response times are lengthened, a complaint made last year by the London (England) Ambulance Service (LAS).

The LAS memo to the London Assembly Transportation Committee was one of the first papers to address the effect of speed humps on emergency response times.

It highlights the lack of scientific studies into the overall effects of speed humps, including ambulance response times, delayed responses by emergency vehicles to life-threatening situations, and the comfort of patients being conveyed to hospital.

“While recognizing that excessive speed both causes traffic accidents and contributes to the level of injury suffered, the LAS believes that the proliferation of speed humps (and some other traffic management schemes) has a detrimental effect on our ability to respond as quickly as possible in life-threatening situations,” the memo states.

It adds that speed bumps lengthen the patient’s journey to hospital, to say nothing of the inevitable jolting of people already in medical discomfort.

All the bumping around can also force paramedics or emergency medical technicians to delay or temporarily stop treatment of a patient.

The memo also points out that pedestrian fatalities rarely occur in residential areas, where most traffic-calming efforts are concentrated.

“It could probably save more lives if the overall traffic flow were improved,” the memo concludes. “Just among the 5,000 cardiac care victims that we try to resuscitate, this could possibly save about 500 lives. In addition, a minute gained in reaching other life-threatening cases could potentially save hundreds of lives.”

A similar report was presented to the City of Austin, Tex., in 2000. It estimates an additional 37 cardiac arrest patients would die each year if emergency vehicles were delayed just 30 seconds by traffic-calming efforts.

If road bumps slow emergency response times and medical treatment, that doesn’t seem right to me.

Another justification for speed bumps is that they make streets safer for kids. But somehow, I survived childhood in my west Toronto neighbourhood without bumps. Was it because I was taught to not play in the street?

And do the efforts at traffic calming to protect pedestrians, laudable as they are, in fact put more people at risk?

Consider these numbers:

Of the 53 people killed on Toronto roads so far this year, 24 were pedestrians.

By comparison, Toronto Emergency Medical Services says an average of 400 to 500 life-threatening calls are received each day, with about half of those requiring transport to hospital.

And 35,000 to 40,000 people die every year in Canada from sudden cardiac arrest, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, with most of those heart attacks occurring at home.

For those heart patients, their best chance of survival is receiving emergency help within the first five minutes. That critical treatment window could be put at risk if an ambulance must slow down for any reason, including speed bumps.

I understand the need for traffic-calming zones around schools. I’m diligent and careful when children are present – who wouldn’t be?

But we can’t just build walls around children; we need to teach them to recognize the dangers and stay away from dangerous situations such as busy streets.

And rather than spending money building bumps on the road, why not use our tax dollars to hire more police officers, who remain the most effective deterrent to fast driving and bad behaviour. Let the police do their job.

I believe it’s better to spend money catching those who disregard traffic laws and pose a threat to everyone, especially our children.

Maybe I’m just a daughter with an older, yet spirited, mother – one who lives life to the fullest.

A day may come, God forbid, when she needs emergency help. If time is of the essence, I can only hope the shortest route is speed-bump free.



Nika has had a love for cars and racing since childhood. A regional racing license holder she has been involved with the industry, working with racers, teams, journalists and automobile manufacturers in sponsorship solicitation, logistics, hospitality, road show and communication program implementation.