Saturday, April 19, 2014

How many tombstones will this safety feature require?


Airplane safety experts have long acknowledged that new safety features and regulations for airplanes never occur without enough deaths to stimulate interest. But what about less spectacular, more prosaic dangers like road hazards? How many need die for safety to step forward?
Hundreds of interstate highway fatalities have been prevented in multiple states by relatively inexpensive safety devices that were not in place at the site of a fiery bus-truck collision last week in California that killed 10 people.

While interstates are statistically the country’s safest roadways, they’re also vulnerable to one of the deadliest kinds of crashes, where one vehicle crosses the median at a high speed and strikes another traveling the opposite direction.

At a time when states are pinching their transportation pennies, the installation of steel cable median barriers has helped states improve highway safety without a lot of investment.

“It’s very effective at capturing the vehicle,” said John Miller, a traffic safety engineer with the Missouri Department of Transportation. “We’ve seen a lot of great benefit from it.”

More than 300 fatal cross-median crashes happened on interstate highways in 2012, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Despite improved highway safety in states that have installed barriers along rural interstates in recent years, the federal government doesn’t require them in the medians of divided highways. Missouri and North Carolina, which have installed the barriers on parts or all of their interstate highways, have seen cross-median fatalities cut by as much as 90 percent. Others, such as Kentucky, are in the process of installing more.
The recent tragic truck/bus accident in California was on a strip that didn't have median barriers. According to CALTrans, the location "crash site didn’t meet its requirements for installing median barriers, which include frequency of cross-median crashes, the width of the median and the daily average traffic count." A few more accidents and it should make the grade.

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