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Barriers to Disaster

Barriers to Disaster

Teenage Hotrodders #13
July 1965

The Department of Public Works in my home state recently announced plans to put more "bounce" in guard rails and median barriers on our state's highways. Future road and bridge contracts, it said, would call for means to lessen chances of injury when a vehicle strikes a railing. The Bureau of Physical Research developed the design after tests of guard rails made by the Cornell aeronautical laboratories of Cheektowaga under a state contract.

The new barrier designs differ substantially from present ones on highways and bridges. But new bridge railings and highway guard rails will call for minor differences, such as heavier railings for bridges. Present median barriers are solid steel or aluminum panels on both sides of posts. New ones will be hollow squares on top of the posts which will be at closer intervals.

Longer panels will permit the shock of a collision to be spread over more of the barrier. And help reduce deceleration of the vehicle, thus helping the driver to retain control. A second median barrier design employing sheet steel for the rails and requiring closer supports is expected to provide more "resiliency" in cases of impact.

The purpose of median barriers is to prevent a car which is going in one direction from getting into the path of a car going into another direction. Or to state the problem very simply: Tp prevent a car from suddenly facing your car! Consider the use of the double lines on highways. You are going northward and in the opposing lane of traffic is a car going southward. The driver of that car is in a hurry and is willing to take a "chance with life or death." Actually that driver wants to get ahead of the car in front of him. So what he does is illegal and dangerous. Crosses those double lines. And suddenly you see his car approaching your car. Maybe he figures he can go fast enough to get ahead of the car in front of him.

You may want to suddenly pull off to your right-but there is a car in that lane! You press down on the horn and blow it for all its worth. Not a pleasant situation in which to find yourself. It happened to me last week. And for the record: There was a mother at the wheel of that car with two children in back! By "A hair's breadth" we avoided the smash-up. One thing is definite: With the use of those median barriers that car can't get into your car's lane.

There is another way of that car getting into your lane. The car on its right might smash into it and toss it right in front of your car. With those strong barriers, at least you will be fairly well protected. However there is another problem which may arise. Let me state my view on it:

I feel definitely that there are some people who suffer from a form of claustrophobia which does affect their driving. From a safety standpoint it is sound for a driver to remark: "I don't want to be hemmed in while driving." If you are driving in the middle lane of a three way highway, with a car on each side of you, you might feel a bit scared. Now make each a truck and it can send shivers down your spine. There are people who can't judge very well the closeness of an object or another car to their car.

Now if such people drive in the lane with the median barrier they might have a psychological problem on their hands. Also the driver who gets a bit careless on how to take a curve, better be more efficient with those median barriers. Otherwise he might bump into them with not such pleasant results. There are still many miles of road in this country without guard rails. And if you go off the road you may land many feet below. One of the ski places I visited last year had a road like this. And a narrow road at that. One skid-and that would be the end of my skiing and writing. O.k.-so I'm chicken. I will not visit that place until they put guard rails to protect the driver, his car, and his passengers.

I know people who prefer to drive in the laneaway from guard rails. They feel "safer" is what they tell me. But as I feel, they are scared of them. And that's a problem they have to solve.

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