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The London literati wage war on the road hump

The road hump, bugbear of motorists across the nation, may finally have met its match in the residents of London's fashionable Primrose Hill, who saw off the prospect last year of a branch of the coffee chain Starbucks opening in their leafy streets.

Some of the area's leading celebrities, including the broadcaster Joan Bakewell, the novelist Dame Beryl Bainbridge, the former editor of The Times, Simon Jenkins, and the writer and director Dr Jonathan Miller, have got the hump over Camden Council's proposals to put sleeping policemen in local roads in an attempt to reduce traffic speeds to 20mph.

"I hate road humps," said Ms Bakewell. "They jump you up and down, which is unhelpful if you have any back trouble. The pleasure is taken out of driving and it's bad for the car, all that changing gear and bumping.

"They tell me that these things reduce accidents, but I'm not aware of any accidents in this area. Nobody goes racing around here - there's usually too much traffic."

Dame Beryl, Ms Bakewell's near neighbour, is one of around 100 people to have written to Camden Council asking for a hump moratorium.

"Speed humps can cause structural damage to houses due to vibrations in the ground caused by traffic passing over them," she wrote. "They cause noise and pollution from traffic slowing down and speeding up. They are unfriendly to pedestrians and dangerous to cyclists."

Mr Jenkins has had speed bumps at his end of the street for a year and is lending his support to the campaign. "It's like the Alps where I live," he said. "They are the most utterly primitive way of slowing traffic. On the Continent they have chicanes. I'm a fan of speed limits but not of humps."

Dr Miller, currently away in Zurich, is reportedly also against the scheme. "These are pretentious, self-righteous people," he is claimed to have said of those demanding road humps in his area. "What they want is a charming, upper-middle-class enclave with Range Rovers and Jeeps carrying their children to their expensive schools."

Camden Council wants the road humps to stop "rat running" by motorists avoiding Ken Livingstone's new congestion charge. It says humps are necessary to reduce accidents, especially involving children, a view supported by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and the MP Gwyneth Dunwoody, who chairs the House of Commons Transport Committee.

"Speed humps save lives, beginning with children," Ms Dunwoody said. "People who are thinking about the effects on their cars should also think about the effect on people's lives."

A spokesman for RoSPA said traffic calming measures were rarely introduced without support from people living in the area.

A spokeswoman for Camden Council said: "There are minimum disadvantages to humps which are far outweighed by reducing speed and casualties." She added that in the past three years there had been 19 accidents in the area, none of them fatal but all resulting in injuries.

Those speed bumps in full ...

We asked Kevin Delaney, the traffic and safety manager at the RAC Foundation, to rate Britain's humps ...

The round top

What is it? The original and most hated of all humps. The nemesis of car suspension systems and back-seat passengers alike. Has the ability to grind cars to a halt - and catapult individuals clean off their seats. Cost: £1,200-£2,500. Irritation factor: 5. "They increase noise and pollution. And if you have someone travelling in the back of an ambulance with a broken leg, it's agony." Vehicle damage factor: 5.

The flat top

What is it? Shares a number of characteristics with its rounded cousin but the flat crest makes it less abrupt - and less likely to twist your chassis. Cost: £2,000-£2,500. Irritation factor: 3. "Slightly less aggressive than the round top, but still enough to jolt bus passengers into the air." Vehicle damage factor: 3.

The speed cushion

What is it? A large square of raised tarmac blobbed in the road, just wide enough to foil most cars. Lorries and buses, on the other hand, can clear them with no problems. Cost: £200-£600. Irritation factor: 2. "Can lead to drivers going down the middle of the road, trying to get their wheels on either side of the cushion." Vehicle damage factor: 1.

The speed table

What is it? A larger, flat-topped hump, usually found at junctions. Less confrontational than smaller humps, but still capable of causing serious damage to suspensions. Cost: £1,000-£1,500. Irritation factor: 2. "Because it's a longer, flat surface, it's essentially little more than a change in the profile of the road." Vehicle damage factor: 2.

The rumble strip

What is it? A series of horizontal, ridged strips in the road, causing a minor earthquake when driven over. Do little to slow drivers down but make a real racket - have been responsible for the loss of more than one filling. Cost: £500-£1,500. Irritation factor: 3. "Noisy, both for those inside the car and those outside." Vehicle damage factor: 1.