Smoother Ride: Do Speed Humps and Bumps Waste Gas?

By: Chris Stover Email
By: Chris Stover Email

October 11, 2013

Gas prices continue to drop nationwide, and many people are always looking for ways to make their cars more gas efficient.

At least one Charlottesville resident says the answer is simple – avoid speed humps and bumps.

The homeowner, who declined an interview with the Newsplex, posted a sign in front of his Park Street home a few years ago with a simple, direct message: Speed Humps Waste Gas.

“Going over that speed bump with the slow down and speed up, yeah, you're wasting gas,” said Lou Bloomfield, a professor of physics at the University of Virginia. “There are so many ways in which we could change our behaviors that would conserve energy better. The speed bump is just one of the bumps on the road of life.”

Bloomfield explained that every time a driver accelerates, energy is wasted.

“The starting process is pretty expensive fuel wise, so you don't want to do it very often,” he said.

The speed humps in Charlottesville neighborhoods, at least, are in place for safety. But the homeowner’s statement is more about the effect on his wallet.

“If we all drove as the speed bump people intended, we would travel nice and slow, go over the speed hump at the same speed, and go on our way. We wouldn't waste any gas,” Bloomfield said.

“But I think the last person who drove like that was in 1936.”

It’s like the law of Sir Isaac Newton – an object in motion stays in motion.

“Every time you introduce an additional place where you have to stop, whether it's a stop sign or stop light or speed bump where you come close to stopping, you're spending more gas,” Bloomfield said.

However, people who work with cars often say speed humps don’t waste too much gas, estimating the added yearly cost totals only a few bucks.

“I don't think it's really going to have a negative impact on your fuel economy. Maybe a few cents per month,” said William Galloway, the general manager at Jim Price Chevrolet. “But again, the purpose of the speed bumps are for safety.”

And not all cars are affected by speed humps and bumps. Hybrid cars, for example, recycle the energy used in braking in the car’s battery.

Bloomfield said there could be a day in the United States where computer chips control just how fast cars can go based on a particular road’s speed limit. That would prevent speeding, and perhaps eliminate what some consider a hassle.

“Who needs the speed bump?” Bloomfield said. “You could just move it off and put it in your living room as decoration.”

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