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Wire rope road barriers divide motorcyclists

Wire rope barriers better roads austroads report hazards support old solar panels promise
Wire rope barriers

A new Austroads report on road barriers has recommended fitting padding on the posts that hold up the wires on wire rope roadside barriers to improve rider safety, rather than scrapping them altogether.

Many motorcycle riders refer to wire rope barriers as “widow-makers”, “rider slicers” and “people graters”.

However, the Australian Motorcycle Council (AMC) and First Aid For Motorcyclists (FAFM) agree with Austroads that the supporting posts cause more concern for riders than the wire rope.

Austroads has recommended in their report, titled “Guidance on Median and Centreline Treatments to Reduce Head-on Casualties” that post protectors be fitted on wire rope and steel barriers to protect riders.

“The barrier post edge, in particular its sharpness, is the most harmful factor in a motorcyclist impact,” the report says, citing figures showing riders are between 15 to 80 times more vulnerable to impact injury with barriers than other motorists.

“Post protectors are made of energy-absorbent material such as polystyrene, and they last four years. They are most effective in low-speed collisions, such as in urban areas or on tight curves. These protectors should only be used once testing has confirmed they do not affect barrier performance.”

Wire Rope Barrier

AMC chairman Peter Baulch agrees … up to a point.

“The primary concern of AMC over WRB is not the widely promoted ‘cheese cutter’ issue, but rather the damage done by the exposed (unpadded) posts, by the exposed ‘end posts’ at the end of each WRB section and by the uncapped and exposed sharp tops of each post,” he says.

“The potential for serious injury posed by these posts is substantial, and is already appearing in motorcycle accident data.” 

However, he says the AMC would prefer concrete Jersey Barriers because of their inherent safety factors, which have also been noted by the Austroads report.

AMC chairman Peter Baulch - wire rope barriers
AMC chairman Peter Baulch

Whilst WRB have a good record with some vehicle types, they pose an increased risk to motorcyclists, when compared with other barrier types,” Peter says. 

“The safety of one road user group should never come at the expense or increases risk of other road user groups.

“WRB are cheap to install (hence they are widely used), but if maintained in accordance with regulations, they become more expensive over their life cycle, when compared with other types of roadside barriers.”

Meanwhile, FAFM founder Roger Fance dispels the urban myth that riders are being sliced up by wire barriers.

First aid - wire rope barriers
Roger Fance and Tracy Hughes of FAFM

“We have not had any riders or course participants mention or discuss being directly involved in a Wire Rope Barrier collision other than their fear of being seriously injured (shredded) if unfortunate enough to slide into one,” he says.

“This concern by riders also includes them sliding under a metal Armco rub rail that has not been designed as a double Armco or been retro fitted with an additional lower Armco W-beam rail.

“These full or retro fitted double Armco rub rails reduce risk of the rider sliding under and being entangled in support posts and or being sliced open on the rigid W-beam edges of the Armco.”

Austroads has also noted that steel barriers should have a secondary lower “rub rail” installed.

Steel Barrier with lower rub rail - wire rope barriers
Steel barrier with lower rub rail

AMC NSW spokesman Guy Stanford has been studying various types of barriers and confirms that concrete barriers are the safest for riders, citing a personal anecdote.

He says he was following a ute which lost its load and sent him and his bike into a concrete barrier.

“I had no option but to go up against the concrete,” he says.

“I skimmed along the barrier with the end of the handlebar and my knee. Any other fence and I would have been down and gone.”

  1. When I see sections of road with wire rope barriers I ride extra carefully as even the look of these barriers scares the bejesus out of me, I have a very vivid imagination and can see how easily the wire could slice through a rider unlucky enough to hit it. Compared with the other types of barrier available I cannot see how road authorities are even allowed to use it.

  2. WRBs are only effective against cars trucks just go straight over them and often it is only luck that some of the wire snags part of the truck to eventually slow or halt it.
    Cars and trucks can get over the concrete barriers but a large amount of their momentum is lost. Besides a concrete barrier generally doesn’t whip around and injure people the way I’ve seen wire barriers do.

  3. Trouble with all these barriers is that they exist at all
    in many areas you cannot even pull off the road if you
    break down and they are all likely to bounce you back into the
    traffic in most car and motorcycle accidents the deaths occur when
    you hit something solid. Simple clear the roadside easements
    especially on the apex of corners, if you must have vegetation
    have ti tree like scrub .

  4. I question the need for barriers at all in many places. A road that is bound on both sides by armco terrifies me. If any vehicle crosses the centre line, – as seems to happen frequently, – there is absolutely nowhere to go. I would rather roll down an embankment than face a truck or car head on.

  5. while one gov department makes sure that no vehicle
    comes out with anything sharp or likely to increase injury
    Another dept is belatedly playing catch up in a really band aid
    style way.All this should have been sorted BEFORE they put
    the things up.We get just the same debacle we get with helmets
    and every thing else. If they put just a fraction of the energy they
    put making life difficult for everyone else, into putting their own
    house in order these situations just wouldn’t occur

  6. I love it, one rule for safety for cars and hey let’s just make it MORE dangerous for riders. WTF! I am in disbelief. And they are still putting these damn things up. Money over safety for all?

  7. Great pun in the title.

    If we have to have WRB (and as stated, there are better options), I would rather see two more cables at 10-15cm from the ground rather than padding around the post.

    While it’s still a “bad” option, I think it’s less bad than padding the post because padding doesn’t stop a rider hitting the post at full speed (which lower wires would) and the padding will deteriorate over time and exposure to weather and UV.

  8. I submit that hitting ANYTHING when things have gone pear-shaped is going to end badly. Public roads are not specifically designed with any particular road user in mind – its a catchall. Further, governments at all levels will always bow to budgetary constraints to build and repair road infrastructure.

    1. From the look of the picture you posted it appears that all they are protecting is some scrub with that ugly wire barrier ?
      If that’s true where is the money it’s supposed to be saving ?

  9. Ha, well try living down here south of the border in mexico guys.

    Another VicRoads beauty, proposing the installation of WRB between the counter flow traffic on the highway between Yea and Molesworth. Granted there has been a couple of horrendous accidents along that section. However with the poor crash data collection already highlighted by PIMS, one again finds oneself questioning the validity of VicRoads in its decision of (a) reducing the speed limit, (b) the proposed installation of WRB down the middle of that road.

    It is evident to even blind Fredy, why a majority of these tragic accidents happen, no, it was not speed, nor was it poor or failing road construction or conditions. It is in fact, fatigue. A major arterial highway to, and more importantly from, winter snowfields, and summer aquatic playgrounds. So what bearing does this have in making my assertion, after a weekend away of, snow sports, or water sports and associated recreational activities? Put two and two together, what do you come up with? I come up with four. VicRoads is able to come up with something totally different. So VicRoads then makes that journey even more laborious and time consuming. Two major factors in contributing to fatigue, not countering it. And now wants to eliminate totally the where possible, and when safe to do so, overtaking by the purposed installation of WRB.

    But when it is a fatigued car driver, VicRoads makes us all suffer the aftermath, increased travel times, and the increasingly belligerent, aggressive, and frustrated drivers. VicRoads fails yet once again, in addressing the real issue, fatigue, but sadly as usual the, speed kills mantra, and rhetoric, is dug out of the closest.

    Why is VicRoads continuing with further installation of WRB? When in first world countries, world leaders in road safety, they are in fact being removed. Because they don’t work? They are unsafe?

    Ride free, ride safe, everyone.

  10. Hi there is a case of an elderly motorcycle rider on his just restored Vincent going around a corner hit an oil patch hit the wire barrier lost a leg and wrote his bike off, no barrier and he would have just slide off the road.I have written at that time to the authorities and just get the same old response “speed Kills” well i have travelled on good roads and tracks 200Ks per hour and i am still here 🙂
    This was in the Ulysses magazine “Riding On” a number of years ago if my memory servers me right.
    In Australia we have the worst roads in the world,now the rain has eased just be aware of the pot holes on our roads in my area the surfaces of the roads are dangerous come around a corner and half the road is like a motocross track so beware in the Cowra/Bathurst/Boorowa/Orange etc area heading West,East,North and south on the main so called highways. I have ridden in other countries and have enjoyed riding on good roads and didn’t have to worry about hidden radar/camera
    at all.

    1. Exactly. I never understand the obsession with trying to make sure nobody leaves the road. Yet in real life, there are many places where it is much better to leave the road in an out-of-control situation than to slide in to a vehicle going the other way.

      I always like an escape route, and Armco on both sides terrifies me.

  11. One more thing we motorcycle riders need is a website to check on road conditions before setting out on a ride.
    Maybe riders have an input into a specific website that can just be there for road conditions, with input to be put in by riders in their own areas and update. We are all on the road so how hard would it be to run?
    As long as the forum just sticks to the reporting of road conditions etc and not turn into a free-for-all crap like some sites.
    Have a think about it.

    1. Hi Black Prince,
      I’ve actually considered this myself.
      Good idea in theory, but difficult in practice.
      When you realise how many roads there are, it would take you too long to find which road you were about to ride.
      Also, to prevent a free-for-all comments have to be monitored before they go in. That would be a 24-hour-a-day job. Even MBW has to sleep some time!

  12. It appears that they are removing the concrete barriers that divide north and south bound traffic on the relatively new section of Pacific Highway north of Urunga. I bet they aren’t replaced with new concrete

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