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Barrier key to motorcycle safety

Rolling barrier motorbike crash

Riders are better off hitting a roadside barrier in a crash than having no barrier and hitting a tree, says Australian Motorcycle Council chairman Shaun Lennard.

He says road side barriers are one of the most important keys to motorcycle safety and research is finally identifying how they affect rider safety.

Barriers have been proven to reduce casualties in all motorists by up to 80%, Shaun says.

Shaun Lennard safety barrier
Shaun Lennard

However, there hasn’t been a lot of attention focussed in the past on research into the effect of barriers on rider safety.

Shaun believes that is now changing with many researchers around the world considering barrier design from the rider’s point of view.

He says there are several new types of barriers that could prove to be safer for riders on twisting roads, including a South Korean-made barrier with yellow rollers.

Rolling barrier motorbike crash
South Korean rolling barriers

Crash testing

The main problem has been that there is no testing procedures for motorcyclists hitting barriers, Shaun says.

“It is easy to set up real-world simulations for vehicles with four wheels hitting a barrier,” he says.

“But with a motorcycle, there are different angles, whether the rider is on or off the bike and multiple ways in which a rider and machine can hit the barrier.

“Rider impact with a barrier is far more complicated than a car and therefore very difficult to build tests around.”

Wire rope barriersWire rope barrier better roads austroads report hazards

Shaun says the rider hysteria around wire rope barriers may not be substantiated.

“They’ve been around in Australia for 25 years now and if the wire barrier was anywhere near the concern that some riders think, there would have been a significant number of fatal crashes caused by the barrier, but there have only been a handful.

“Many more motorcycle riders are killed hitting trees because there was no barrier than have been killed hitting wire rope barriers,” he said.

Shaun even suggests that the proliferation of cheaper wire rope barriers on straight sections of highway may be a good thing because it means more money can be spent on providing safer barriers on winding roads where riders are more likely to hit them.

“The number of riders running off straight sections and hitting barriers is minuscule,” he says.

“Most motorcycle crashes occur on curves with riders running too wide and going off the road or into oncoming traffic.

“If there can be some co-ordinated approach to making motorcycle touring roads safer, then riders will have less angst about the safety of barriers on major highways.”

Motorcycle safety

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Motorcycle safety is finally on the drawing board with politicians, engineers and researchers, Shaun says.

He has been attending international road safety conferences for a number of years and says the attitude has changed.

An example is the US Transportation and Research Board which is an international think tank on road safety.

“Three years ago they were saying considering motorcycles in the design of infrastructure was totally foreign, particularly in the USA,” he says.

“It wasn’t even something riders were pushing for in the US either.

“Three years later they have a different attitude.”

Ministerial support

Shaun Lennard safety barrier
Shaun Lennard

Shaun says he is also buoyed by a recent “receptive” ministerial meeting with the Federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister Darren Chester.

“It was brief meeting and not much time to delve into detail, but he was very receptive and more meetings are planned,” he says.

“He’s very concerned about the rise in rider deaths and is looking at what can be done,” Shaun says.

“After about 10 years of a trending decline in motorcycle fatalities, over the last two years the toll has started to rise again.

“One year would be a statistical blip but two years is considered significant.”

  1. Totally disagree with Shaun.

    When state governments and their corporate road authorities, and I use Victoria as an example spend more money installing WRB, than actually fixing the roads, particularly regional roads.

    Because of the total lack of creditable accident research and investigation, one has to wonder what percentage of accidents would not have happened in the first place, if the roads had been properly maintained.

    Typical really, treating the symptom not the cause.

  2. There are far more trees than WRBs!
    WRBs are deadly full stop. There are more likely to cause a fatality than prevent one. There is a spectacular video of a truck tearing across a wide median and only just stopping after entering two out of three oncoming lanes on an expressway. The WRB was hailed as a hero for stopping the truck, it caused the accident in the first place had it not been there there may have been no accident at all. The truck had swerved to avoid hitting a stopped car, had there been no WRB the truck would have either just gone up the shoulder or the median but the wire caught the front wheel of the truck and steered it into oncoming traffic. Had there been any vehicles in the two lanes at the time it probably would have been a fatality.
    WRBs are dangerous and by far the most expensive barrier, the initial installation cost is lower but the ongoing upkeep is many times higher than a concrete barrier. Concrete is set and pretty much forget with only minor maintenance and only there are damaged in a collision needs repair. You can get upto a hundred years out of a concrete barrier. WRBs require constant maintenance only last about twenty years, in an accident the entire section can become useless and often entire sections need to be replaced. A single length of basic WRB is half the cost of a concrete barrier, add maintenance repairs and remedial safety devices like pads to mitigate impacts to uprights by riders and you are soon paying many times the cost of concrete!
    I have been forced into a concrete barrier by an oblivious cager, I scraped my leg and handlebar against it but did not crash or receive any injuries. Had it been a WRB I might require watering and fresh fertiliser removal by carers.
    There was a time when stands of shrubs such as tea tree were used as barriers
    I’ve hit a stand of tea trees at speed when dirt biking no damage to me or the bike and the trees didn’t care either.

  3. Whilst anything is better than nothing you must remember that the wire rope barrier was put in against it’s own design recommendation. The designer designed the fence for the centre of motorways with large wide median strips to stop cross-over accidents during icy or snowy conditions. It was not designed for the outer edge of the road and it was definitely not designed for corners of greater than 15 degrees.
    Another installation fault was placing it too close to the thoroughfare which was usually coupled with another failure of being behind kerbing especially the sloping ergonomic style which does nothing except launch the crashing vehicle higher up the fence.
    Strange as it may seem flush fitting smooth faced concrete is most probably the best barrier for motorcycles( except in a relative head-on situation) as it allows the bike and rider to slide along instead of grabbing at the rider and machine.
    But all in all it’s just better not to crash.
    As for the rise in accident rate I, for one< believe that this correlates directly to the fact the numbers of bikes has increased and they are being ridden a lot more as day to day transport.

  4. Just looking at statistics can paint a poor picture that looks nothing like reality.
    At one corner there was a sharp rise in deaths from one every five years to twenty in one year. Sounds bad but when you actually look at it it was just one freak accident were a bus driver had a heart attack crashed into a tree fell into a river and most of the elderly passengers drowned.
    With the advent of cameras real data can be obtained and it’s starting to look that with the exception of heroes most motorcycle accidents have a cause other than the rider.

  5. Just a thought for you all, there a billions of old tyres all over Australia that could be used for road barriers. Hell, they work on race tracks with vehicles doing 200km/h why can’t we use them on our roads? Have some sort of anchor system for them, maybe chain each group together, spray them bright yellow. I’d rather hit a tyre than a piece of wire or solid steel, (actually i’d rather not hit anything at all)

    1. The problem with racetrack tyre barriers it they are designed for fully faired race bikes or for vehicles with driver “cockpits” such as GP cars or supercars. Unfaired bikes can get hooked up.
      But they would be better cv than wire barriers or old fashioned Armco if you slid into them. Large bikes may throw the rider over the wire or Armco, or worse, run the rider along the top edge.

  6. The trouble is that there won’t be a single solution, crashes are complicated and what might work for a truck, will be less than ideal for a bike and what works on a highway won’t be ideal for a sharp corner. It might or perhaps should come down to what is most likely to crash where and fit the appropriate barrier (expensive you bet).

  7. As Ken Terry states, the number of increased bike accidents relates to the increase of bike usage. The slow/non- major injury accident rate also increases similar to cars, based on electronic devices that a lot of riders/drivers rely on: antiskid brakes etc. A lot of new riders/drivers have never driven a car with drum brakes, no electronic devices and certainly never ridden/driven something that takes forever to even get up to the speed limit 🙂
    Combined with a lack of driver attention on the roads (mobile phones, stereo’s, food, drink) and along with the I don’t care about anyone else on the road, and I will do whatever I want (changing across 3 lanes within a small distance, no indicators) this leads to a lot more accidents, especially amongst riders who have very little chance if in wrong place at wrong time.
    With regards to the barriers, again, sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. At times I would prefer the chance of riding off the road and safely trying to come to a stop amongst the side of the road. Sometimes if sliding to a stop, then a barrier would be the preferred option to assist in the stopping of me and bike.

  8. European safety authorities are moving to ban rigid vertical posts because of the serious danger to motorcyclists
    but in Australia they’re installing them like crazy.
    Wire rope, armco, you name it.

    The vertical posts in the Korean roller barrier, & the vertical posts in wire rope barriers, as well as vertical posts in armco, are obviously very dangerous to motorcyclists, worse than trees
    because they are
    * inflexible
    * closer to the road than trees, no room for the motorcyclist to slow down by sliding
    * have a much closer spacing than trees – more of them to hit
    & are frequently installed where they’re aren’t any trees in the first place.

    All this is bleeding obvious.

    The problem isn’t the wire rope – it’s the vertical posts (cheese slicers) holding it up.

  9. Removing hazards provides a permanent solution and it’s often much cheaper than installing barriers.

    Installing barriers creates a new hazard where none previously existed.

    While some barriers are rider friendly (flat surfaces)… barriers with exposed posts create areas of high impact forces.

    However as riders go over the top of a barrier in ~37% of cases failing to remove the hazard behind the barrier contributes to injuries and illustrates the need to remove hazards rather than try to isolate riders from them.

    The entire debate is often confused because so little testing is done with motorcycles. Using car testing to prove that barriers are safe for bikes is like comparing apples and pears.

    As the number of inappropriate roadside barriers increases injuries and fatalities attributable to roadside barriers will also increase. It’s better if we don’t wait for this to happen and instead are pro-active in this matter.


    1. If that has to be explained, well so be it. Maximum allowable speed on roads is typically 110km/h, racetracks, the potential speed is easily double that. Do the math.

      1. So it’s dangerous for a human body to impact all those posts at 200 km/hr on racetrack
        but it’s safe for a human body to impact all those posts at 110 km/hr on the road?

        Not many people would believe that one.

  10. That Korean rolling barrier looks terrible. Many riders hit the top of the barrier and that barrier has strong pillars that pertrude at the top!
    The wire rope barriers seem ok but once again it is the post that I worry about…
    At least a smooth concrete wall doesn’t have things my arms, legs or neck can be caught by…

  11. Our contemporary roads are appalling and do not reflect the type of vehicles now using them. Sixty years ago vehicles did not have the engineering now common in all , 70MPH was considered a fast speed and the car felt unsafe ,
    now one can easily achieve that in a completely relaxed way.
    Take a look at the side of any road (except in the city) at the runoff area , it is rough unpaved , full of gravel and other obstacles . If a vehicle should leave the road proper it is in big trouble with loose gravel trees power poles culverts ect. there is no chance to recover control.
    So what do the advisers to govt do they recommend barriers to dissipate the energy of the vehicle as it crumples simple ( so says the meercat) .
    This is because they do not want to spend the money to make the environment of the road safer, all our petrol taxes should provide enough at least to make a start.
    Those whom have agonized about trees and poles are right , if there is enough apron at the periphery of the road if you come down and slide to a stop a la WSBK types you may rip some of your safety gear ( which you wear all the time Ha Ha) and as long as you don’t hit some immovable pole , tree or lump of concrete you can ring for a tow truck .
    Better runoff areas on all roads to reflect the type of vehicles we use is what is required but barriers are cheaper , and any way pollies and heads of departments take limos and fly , and never see what the peasants use.
    I am reminded of a quote by some WWII leader on army casualties ” the death of one man is a tragedy that of a million is just a statistic” and that is how our bureaucrats and politicians view our misadventures on the roads.

  12. It is a salient point that race track’s have B A N N E D these wire barriers, because although the top speed is higher than our roads, the corners are taken at speeds nearer 100kph and corners are where the deviation from the track is more likely.


    If its N O T safe for a race track why is it safe for our roads.

    Old tyres that are well intact could be a solution, however they’d have to be fully covering the steel belt carcass to not create a human carcass.

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