Things that go bump in the day

There’s a growing menace on the roads of Britain, and it’ll be coming to a street near you soon. You may already be afflicted by sleeping policemen in your area; in London, they are now in place on most thoroughfares of lesser standing than the A40, give or take the odd High Street.

Their objective is to slow down traffic in busy, built-up areas, in a bid to reduce the annual incidence of death on the roads. The problem with sleeping policemen is that drivers react in one of two ways, neither of which is constructive.

The first response is to slow down to a speed suitable for negotiating the suspension rattling slabs of tarmac that litter the road. This is ideal, unless that pace is maintained for the whole length of the street, which it often is. Result: added congestion, frustration and impatience all round.

Reaction number two is equally common. In-between the obstacles, drivers accelerate like fury until the next sleeping policeman hoves into view. Then its hard on the brakes, over the bump, back on the throttle in a frenzied fashion and keep the foot planted until the road surface rises again. Result: erratic behaviour borne of impatience, and no reduction in the level of danger should any inattentive under-12s be in the vicinity. If anything, such a response heightens the danger to pedestrians.

The other point about sleeping policeman, and this is perhaps the most important of all, is the effect they have on the reaction time of emergency service vehicles. People cannot choose where they have heart attacks, nor can house fires and serious road accidents be the exclusive preserve of busy main roads with easy access. Furthermore, ambulances are not exactly equipped with active suspension; the potential consequences of a barrage of sleeping policemen could be disastrous for a patient with serious neck or back injuries. SA