Guardrails line highways for millions of miles across the country. Through the years, their design has changed significantly in order to help reduce fatalities and severe accidents.
But have they actually helped in accidents at all?
Safe Guard? When a car swerves or is pushed into the length of the metal guardrail, the metal cushions the impact, absorbs the energy, and prevents the car from crossing into the opposite lane of traffic or from careening off into the woods and straight into a tree. A guardrail is supposed to give way with the car rather than act as a cement wall.
Guardrails are broken up into segments, and the end piece of a rail is called the terminal head. Each section has a terminal head on each end. Sometimes these terminal heads can be very dangerous to cars that run into them.
A Little History. Back in the 1960s, guardrails had exposed ends that would jam right through cars on impact. As time went on, highway workers decided to bury the ends of the guardrails into the ground. While this solved the “jamming” problem, it also created a new one. When cars crashed into the buried end of a guardrail, it acted like a ramp, causing cars to flip over.
Now Matter How You Slice and Dice it…In theory, the surface of the terminal head is supposed to lessen the impact of a head-on crash and give way with the car. The metal railing is then supposed to funnel through the head and out the side like a ribbon of metal away from the car.
Picture a vegetable slicer coming into contact with the end of the cucumber. As the slicer moves down the cucumber, the skin peels out to the side. In this comparison, equate the car to the slicer and the guardrail to the skin.
However, this does not always happen. With increasing frequency, when vehicles crash into the terminal head of a guardrail, it either stops the car with the force of a brick wall or worse pierces the vehicle. In many instances the railing slices through the car, cutting through the front of the vehicle, the windshield, the seats, and even the passengers.
Safety Net or Death Trap? In fact, one of the leading manufacturers of guardrails is currently involved in a number of lawsuits where victims are claiming that the guardrails did not act as they were supposed to when their vehicles crashed into the terminal heads.
In addition to the lawsuits brought by numerous personal injury plaintiffs, the guardrail manufacturer is also under investigation by the highway transportation departments in several states, all begging the same question:
Are the guardrails currently lining our highways actually acting as safety measures for vehicles? Or are they death traps?
Back to the Question…
This leads us back to our original question: How dangerous are guardrails?
Although guardrails are responsible for saving thousands of lives each year, there are still some risks. For example, if drivers fall asleep at the wheal or are pushed into the guardrail by force, then the safety device will cushion the impact and absorb much of the energy. But this does not mean that drivers and passengers will also walk away without any injuries.
On the other hand, by looking at the glass half full, if the choice is a guardrail or a tree, then the guardrail is the better option.
In summary, researchers believe that the presence of our guardrails far outweigh the risks and dangers to drivers.