Let’s not fool ourselves: no crash barrier is really safe for motorcyclists, but smart designers are able to think of barrier systems that could improve motorcyclists’ safety.
FEMA talked to Roberto Impero, general manager at SMA Road Safety, the Italian company that developed and produces the Andromeda barrier, a so-called ‘smart barrier’. Roberto explains: “The barrier is equipped with a LED lighting system which makes driving in fog or at night safer. With special sensors the barrier can notify the rescue services autonomously and in real time in case of an accident; it sends the location of the impact and warns oncoming traffic with light signals. In the future, the barrier can even communicate with self-driving vehicles.”
But what immediately caught our eye at FEMA were not the flashing lights and electronic gadgets, but the barriers’ other characteristics that could improve motorcyclists’ safety.
Topside protection – The posts on this barrier can be protected by installing a motorcycle protection system and the top of the barrier is closed off; for motorcyclists that come into contact with a guard rail, the exposed posts and a razor-sharp top are the two most dangerous elements of the system. Over 50 percent of the crashes of motorcycles with road restraint systems, some research studies even speak of 60 percent, are with the motorcyclist still sitting on his bike. So, a smooth topside of crash barriers is important to avoid serious injuries or even casualties. The Andromeda barrier is a see-through barrier; the space between the posts can be filled with a grid or with a ‘window’ made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET). This feature prevents anything from getting caught on the posts, but it also means road users can still see their surroundings.
Cable barrier – The compact width of the barrier (140 mm for the H2 classification or 220 mm for the H4 classification) means it can be fitted as a median barrier almost anywhere. This of course leads to the question if this could be a safer alternative to the cable barrier or wire rope barrier, which most motorcyclists fear. Roberto: “It is really difficult to compare the cable barrier to the Andromeda barrier. Cable barriers as median barriers do not need a lot of space to install either, but in case of an impact with for example a bus, the deflection of the cable barrier is quite big, sometimes a couple of metres. The deflection of the Andromeda barrier is limited to 60 centimetres.” This means that with a cable barrier, the vehicle that hits the barrier may end up in the lane of oncoming traffic.
Repair and maintenance – The Andromeda barrier also has some characteristics that are of importance to road authorities and emergency services. Roberto Impero: “Andromeda is a modular system, built of modules of six meters, so anytime you need to open it for an emergency, you just loosen the bolts and open the and remove one part. It also makes it very easy and cheap to replace a part of the barrier after an impact.”
Invest in our safety – The Andromeda barrier was planned to be crash tested with a motorcyclist protection system fitted, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic that test had to be postponed. FEMA’s Dolf Willigers: “It is great to see how companies like SMA Road Safety keep developing better and more effective road restraint systems, but this will not lead to any improvement in motorcyclists’ safety if these new systems are not purchased and installed along our national roads. Therefore, we need the national motorcyclists’ organizations to continuously talk to their road authorities and convince them to invest in our safety.”
Written by Wim Taal
Top photograph by Wim Taal, other images and video provided by SMA Road Safety
This article is subject to FEMA’s copyright