The Legal Basis of Traffic Calming
Some of the questions that your editor is often asked are “How is it legal for my local council to obstruct the road with speed humps?”, or “Can I claim against the council for damage to my car caused by speed humps?, or “What are the permitted dimensions of speed humps?”. This article explains the laws by which speed humps are regulated in England and Wales, and helps to give answers to those questions and many others. The Secretary of State has powers under the Road Traffic Acts to set Regulations in respect of traffic calming measures and the relevant ones are as follows:
The Highways (Traffic Calming) Regulations 1999 (and a subsequent amendment in 2000) can be found on the HMSO web site on the internet (see www.legislation.gov.uk - use their site search function), plus also the Highways (Road Humps) Regulations 1999 on the same web site. These regulations specify what traffic calming devices are permitted and where, what public consultation is required, what street signs are required, and in the last case, the maximum dimensions of speed humps. It is important to note that speed humps are therefore expressly permitted by law and therefore if a hump meets the regulations, you are very unlikely to have any case in law against the local authority for any damage or injury caused by them, with a few minor exceptions.
Under these regulations there is an obligation to consult various people about traffic calming schemes. Under the Highways (Traffic Calming) Regulations they must consult the police and "such persons or organisations representing persons who use the highway or who are otherwise likely to be affected by the traffic calming work as the authority thinks fit." Clearly local residents or businesses should therefore be consulted.
Similarly, and even more specifically, under the Highways (Road Humps) Regulations the council must consult "in all cases, organisations appearing to them to represent persons who use the highway to which the proposal related, or to represent persons who are otherwise likely to be affected by the road hump". In addition they must consult local fire and ambulance services. Organisations such as B.B.R.A.G. who represent road users must clearly therefore be consulted.
Permitted Traffic Calming Devices
These can be almost any features included in a traffic calming scheme such as humps, lighting, paving, grass, pillars, bollards, walls, fences, trees, and many more.
Required Street Signs and Lighting
There must be “adequate warning of the presence of traffic calming works….” and likewise for speed humps. In the specific case of humps, there must also be adequate street lighting (the regulations spell out the specific requirements here in some detail).
Hump Dimensions and Location
Speed humps must be at right angles to the carriageway, be at least 900mm long, be less than 100 mm high and more than 25mm high and not have a vertical face exceeding 6 mm. Note that most speed humps in the UK are now constructed at 75 mm height due to grounding on higher ones, and there are other guidelines on their use and such measures as leading and trailing slopes which are given later, but these do not necessarily have the force of law. Road humps may be constructed under Zebra, Pelican and Puffin crossings, if centrally located under them. However they cannot be placed near bridge supports, or near tunnels or culverts beneath the road.
There are specific regulations on the construction of overrun areas and rumble devices which limit their height for example. But one interesting point to note is the rule that “No traffic calming work shall be constructed or maintained in a carriageway so as to prevent the passage of any vehicle unless the passage of that vehicle is otherwise lawfully prohibited”. This was probably designed to avoid such measures being used to prohibit heavy goods vehicles for example, without a more specific regulation being invoked, but it may be relevant in other ways if you own a vehicle that has difficulty in negotiating speed humps.
Guidelines on Use
Another useful source of information are “Traffic Advisory Leaflets” which are published by the DfT on and provide guidance to Local Authority traffic engineers. They include leaflets on traffic calming measures and also reference relevant reports from the Transport Research Laboratory. All such Leaflets can be accessed from the following page: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/traffic-advisory-leaflets .
Ones of particular interest in regards to speed humps are "2/96 75mm High Humps", "7/96 Highways (Road Humps) Regulations 1996", "8/96 Road humps and ground-borne vibrations", "1/98 Speed cushion schemes" and "4/94 Speed cushions", "10/00 Road humps: discomfort, noise and ground-borne vibration", "3/91 Speed humps" and "2/05 Traffic Calming Bibliography". The last document provides a summary of where to obtain more information but has not unfortunately been updated lately. These Leaflets give a lot more detailed recommendations on actual design and use of speed humps, and such matters as location, signage and pre-installation consultation. For example look at “Speed Control Humps TAL 03/91 and “Highways (Road Humps) Regulations 1996 TAL 07/96”. The latter for instance says the following on the subject of consultation:
“It is recommended that the consultation process is not limited just to carrying out the statutory duties, but should open up a dialogue with all interested parties to ensure that as far as possible there is a consensus in favour of the scheme. At times it may be necessary for the highway authority to demonstrate their willingness to modify schemes in order to obtain an acceptable compromise.”. Clearly not something that happens in many local authorities!
Unfortunately the content of Traffic Advisory Leaflets is only advisory but if there were clear contraventions of the advice therein, then you would probably have grounds for complaining to your local council. A failure to respond satisfactorily could give you evidence for a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman (see http://www.lgo.org.uk). Any failure to adhere to these recommendations might also help you in any claim for compensation for damage to property or personal injury on the grounds of negligence by the local authority.
If you are concerned about signage or road markings for speed humps, another useful source of information is the publication "Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002" which has the force of law - see http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2002/3113/contents/made
When the general public demand the removal of humps, you sometimes hear it argued by councillors or council staff that there are legal difficulties in doing so - for example that councillors might be personally liable if accidents subsequently occurred. This is in reality nonsense. The possible legal liabilities and obligations of councillors and local authority staff are fully spelled out in the following document: Councillor-Liabilities
Note that the web site addresses mentioned above, particularly the Department for Transport ones, seem to be subject to rapid change so please notify us of any failures in these links so we can correct them in future.