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Wire rope barrier advocate honoured

Wire rope barriers promise widow vote honoured diverted
Wire rope barriers

A road safety academic who advocates wire rope barriers, lower speed limits and mandatory hi-vis vests for riders, and alcohol interlocks and electronic rider aids on bikes has been honoured with a special award.

UNSW Sydney Professor Raphael Grzebieta has been honoured with the 2019 Kenneth A Stonex award in recognition of his lifetime contribution to reducing run-off-road injuries and transport deaths worldwide.

The professor once said every motorcycle should come with an alcohol interlock, ABS and other electronic rider aids, while riders should be “lit up like a Christmas tree”.

He also says speed limits throughout Australia are “much too high” and in some circumstances should be 80km/h on highways and 40km/h in cities.

But one of his most controversial stances — particularly among motorcyclists — is his support for  wire rope barriers.

The self-proclaimed “world authority on motorcycle-into-barrier impacts” says “riders killed in barrier impacts is less than 1% of all road fatalities” and “around 5-6% of all motorcycle fatalities”.

“In other words, any changes to current designs of road barriers will have almost no effect on reducing rider fatalities and serious injuries,” he says.

Prof honoured

Professor Raphael Grzebieta honoured
Professor Raphael Grzebieta

The annual Stonex award was presented by the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Transportation Research Board’s (TRB’s) Roadside Safety Design Committee AFB20.

It honoured the Prof for “identifying the leading causes of roadside fatalities and injuries and developing mitigation techniques using full-scale crash testing and computer simulation”.

WRB supporter

The Professor says he has “long advocated for installing nation-wide wire-rope barriers”.

“When wire-rope barriers are installed with rumble strips on rural roads, there is an 80 to 90% reduction in fatalities and serious injuries,” he says. Sweden halved their fatalities when they installed these barrier systems in 2000.

“Victoria has now installed 1200km of wire-rope barriers on rural roads to reduce their rising fatality count in 2016. They just recorded their lowest ever road fatality count (in 2018).

“Other states and in particular NSW are still lagging behind terribly. They are simply not investing the same scale of money to have a real effect on deaths and serious injuries.”

Victoria’s road toll in 2018 was 214, compared with 259 in 2017 and 290 in 2016 when they started installing wire-rope barriers, he says.

The Prof says the barriers have been controversial with motorcyclists because of misinformation.

WRBs rejected

Several rider groups in Australia and two leading European rider groups have objected to the countinuing rollout of WRBs.

They have also supported a petition by widow Jan White, whose husband, Phil, aged 60, died when his bike unavoidably hit a dead kangaroo on a 110km/h slightly sweeping bend of the Calder Highway in Victoria on November 5, 2017.

Widow calls for halt on wire rope barrier ads honoured
Phil and Jan White

Phil hit four support poles on the WRBs next to the road.

Click here to sign her petition against the rollout of WRBs.

Critics of WRBs say they are positioned too close to the roadside and prevent drivers and riders from pulling over in an emergency our breakdown.

The Victoria Country Fire Fire Authority has also criticised the rollout of WRBs, saying they block access to crashes and bushfires

Prof Grzebieta helped launch a $1 million project examining motorcycle impacts into roadside barriers and how motorcyclists could be better protected in collisions, particularly with W-beam barriers.

“We disproved all of the myths promulgated by motorcyclists, providing strong support for continued installation of these lifesaving barrier systems,” he says.

“Sweden saw a 40 to 60% reduction in motorcycle fatalities.”

However, WRBs are banned in Belgium and Norway, not supported by the Netherlands government and have never been used in Germany or other European countries, except Poland, Iceland, Romania, Sweden and the UK to a lesser extent.

Speed freakSpeed limits 30km/h city honoured

Professor Grzebieta also says the award recognises his research into the reduction of speed limits on highways, suburban and high pedestrian active streets.

“The speed limits throughout Australia, in particular NSW, WA and NT, are much too high,” he says.

“In NSW, the limit on parts of the Newell highway are 110km/h where there are no barriers installed. The speed should be reduced to the survivable limit of 80km/h unless median and roadside barriers have been installed.

“Also the speed limit in residential streets, the CBD and high pedestrian active areas should be 40km/h, preferably 30km/h, in line with best practise European countries that have half the Australian fatality rates,” he says.

“The Australian default speed limit for suburban roads is currently set at 50km/h.”

In a paper he co-wrote with his UNSW Sciences colleague Professor Jake Olivier, presented two weeks ago at the TRB’s annual meeting where Professor Grzebieta received his award, Professor Grzebieta said the reduced speed limits he proposed were commonly used by countries such as Sweden, Netherlands and the UK, which had the world’s lowest road fatality rates.

  1. There was an expert who claimed he could reduce the death rate from heart attack by removing fat and or cholesterol from every ones diets, he was honoured and graced the cover of Time magazine and seen as an absolute authority on heart disease.
    So confident in his beliefs was he that he actively shouted down any descenting opinions and tried to destroy the careers of anyone who persisted in saying that it was smoking sugar and that crap that isn’t even any good as a lubricant vegetable (seed) oil. It is not clear if this expert was in the pocket of the various vested interests that have hugely profited from his expertise or if he had some religious agenda like those of the founders of Sanitarium foods but this expert is responsible for absolute millions of deaths and the creation of the crap that is supposed to pass for health food.
    So it is very clear that anointed experts are incredibly dangerous individuals and even more dangerous in groups especially when some unscrupulous corporations can make a mint out of the utter bullshit that comes spewing from their mouths.

    There is a saying about lies and statistics and the reason for that is statistics can easily be manipulated to say what ever you want them to.

  2. Very hard to see how a wire rope barrier is less damaging than a dirt verge or an open paddock!
    Hi-viz, regardless of what you wear, a large % of drivers don’t look & see us,each other or even trucks!
    Lower speed limits, boredom, inattention & with this it appears his hope of motorbikes being disused.
    Another academic who dislikes motorbikes & possibly requires a specialist to work through his motorcycle dislike issues disguised as ‘safety’

  3. First I don’t think that professor has ever ridden a motorbike. Reducing speed, yes it will help but the danger is that other vehicles will pass us and cause accidents. The steel ropes are dangerous so easy as that why don’t they use a net structure that is as strong to stop a car at the top impact speed on the roads? There are engineered textiles around that can replace those steel barriers. I agree with all those guys behind the desk only looking to statistics need to come out in the real world more. Motorcyclist do already much more about safety than any other road user but we are fragile because we have only two wheels.

  4. Beggers belief.
    Great use of selective stats,6 out of 7 dwarfs aren’t happy.
    As one who rides in rural areas the thought of even lower speed limits is absurd.Guess if the limit was zero it would have an effect as well. When one is traveling long distances on roads that have very little traffic the thought of adding hours onto the trip is concerning.
    The stats on the Stuart highway doesn’t support his assumptions.
    One would hope thst the pro has actually been outside of cities to get a first hand take on these issues. Wire rope bartiers a metre away from you is not that comforting, plus the fact that one had know where to go in case of emergency.
    Let’s be realistic about road safety.
    Fran Wauchope

  5. What a load of #*%$, go back into your hole and stop interfering with other people’s pursuit.

    Lowering speed limits is just a joke and not a solution, get distracted drivers off the road would be a start.

  6. I was going to make a comment but it’s just to exasperating to deal with this mans logic.
    Just sell your bike, sell your car and start walking, thats the future I’m afraid.

  7. Riiigggghhhtt, so I guess Professor Raphael will install a gps speedo and dob himself in every time he exceeds 80kph on the hwy.

  8. I’m surprised he doesn’t advocate reducing the speed limits to zero everywhere so there would be no road crashes. Maybe we could just go back to the old method; speed limit four miles per hour and a person walking in front of each vehicle holding a red flag!

  9. So I tried looking into the assertion that cable barriers are just as safe. The only study I could find was from America and used this as a sample size: “There were 546 W-beam guardrail collisions, 358 concrete barrier collisions, and 47 cable barrier collisions observed” (source: ). 47 crashes with cable barriers is a very small number of crashes in a very different environment to come to such a conclusion. I hope that he isn’t arguing that we as motorcyclists against the barriers are perpetuating safety myths based on such a statistic. The situations in which the barriers are being used is very important. I have an auntie who is a paramedic who told me about a car flipping over the barrier and then they were unable to get to them as there was nowhere to go around the barrier without driving down the road for some distance (similar problems exist for all barriers I imagine).

    Also the idea of doing 80 down the newell in areas where there aren’t barriers is so impractical it’s hilarious, every time I read about safety recommendations they always seem so removed from what I see as acceptable risks.

  10. This award is about Professor RG’s CV not road safety. He ran the bungled MUARC wire rope barrier crash tests at Laverton Victoria around 2002. Toyota Echoes only crashed. No bikes with dummies. The full report has never been released. Non-representative cars were crashed into 3 types of barrier in ideal conditions at well under highway speed and at the perfect angle. I saw the wrecks and the video. Since then RG has parroted his support for wire rope barriers but I’ve never seen him produce a single legit report that shows wire rope barrier decreases the severity of crashes in the majority of incidents on-road in Australian conditions. No research has been done to see if there are situations where wire rope barriers increase the severity of some/many/all crashes. No research has been done to see if wire rope barriers tear motorcyclists to bits even at low speeds. My guess is RG would not consider research into rider safety where roadside barriers are concerned because it would not fit his script. Of course, if that’s right I doubt he’d admit it. In my opinion he does not deserve this award. Damien. MRA

  11. Based on Raph’s comments about euro speed limits we should increase the freeway speeds to 120.
    Selective stat’s to further vested interests.
    A reasonable observer could come to the conclusion that the Professor is too close to the manufacturers of Wire Rope Barriers. Maybe there should be a look into who provides the funding for his research and who some of his students are?
    Some of us with long memories remember a study he did that claimed WRB’s increased the risk of injury to riders

  12. WRB myths include the claim that 100% of cross over accidents are prevented. Raphael Grzebieta has perpetuated a series of these myths while failing to engage with motorcyclists on more constructive solutions.

    Fractures are a common problem in motorcycle accidents… yet we continue to place hazards next to our roadsides that increase the number of fractures. It is relatively easy to remove hazards and thus reduce the number of fractures and injuries. Inaction on this issue is often defended by claiming that small percentage increases in safety are not worth chasing, that the costs of removing hazards are too high or that the benefits to other road users outweigh the safety benefits to motorcyclists. Wire Rope Barriers illustrate much of what is wrong with these arguments. The WRB report summarises much of the problem and proposes solutions.

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