EU reviewing wire barriers


The European Commission has launched a review of the use of wire rope crash barriers such as those currently being installed on Irish motorways and dual carriageways.

The Commission has asked the European Committee for Standardisation, which draws up technical specifications for industry, to review the use of such barriers, a Commission spokeswoman confirmed yesterday.

The review was prompted by concern over the effects the wire ropes and poles have in a collission, particularly with motorcyclists.

The installation of such barriers has now been banned in a number of European countries - including Britain, Austria, Norway and the Netherlands - on safety grounds.

However, the National Roads Authority (NRA) is currently installing the wire rope barriers on all major roads where the central median is 15 metres or less.

In Europe, Australia and the United States, however, concern about wire ropes is mounting - particularly from motorcyclists.

They point to research in Germany that was conducted using cadavers that showed motorcycle users were particularly vulnerable to having limbs severed and suffering potentially fatal injuries upon striking the metal stakes that hold up either ropes or narrow guardrails.

Following a review of European-wide safety research, the Dutch removed the wire ropes, and the last such barrier in the Netherlands was removed in July of last year.

In Norway, the Ministry of Transport announced a ban on future use of wire rope barriers at the end of last year, while, in a similar move, the British government's roads agency has stipulated all new central barriers must be solid concrete.

Existing wire rope barriers in Britain are to be removed when in need of replacement.

In Austria, France, Germany and Portugal devices have been fixed to the upright poles of existing wire ropes and other crash barriers in a bid to make them less hazardous to motorcyclists.

Wire ropes have also been identified by the EU-funded final report of the Motorcyclists and Crash Barriers Project, carried out by the Federation of European Motorcyclists' Associations (Fema), as the "worst possible choice" from a motorcyclist's perspective.

The project considered research detailing design changes to crash barriers put forward by many European states to make them safer for all road users.

It concluded that with "the wire rope safety fence . . . it seems difficult to improve their safety with regards to a motorcyclist at a reasonable cost".

In fact, for motorcyclists, one of the best situations is where there are no obstacles on the roadside, as is seen in Belgium, and instead have a very wide median.

Wide medians were proposed in Ireland, but this was changed following a three car crash on the M50 in November 2004, when a car crossed onto oncoming traffic, resulting in multiple fatalities.

Following the crash, the NRA announced it would "retro-fit" crash barriers to motorways and it opted for the wire rope barrier system at a cost of approximately €7.5 million.

Responding to questions this week, the NRA said it now used safety barriers where the central median was less than 15 metres. Beyond 15 metres, the median itself is deemed to provide the safety mechanism.

"The NRA standards accord with best practice internationally and were determined following a review of design standards in use in other countries," the authority insisted.

In an additional statement, the authority said: "Conventional accident databases provide little useful information on the merits of particular crash barrier types. As a result, there is no definitive study on the subject. Road safety researchers agree, however, on two points. Firstly, that the best solution is to provide wide medians with no barrier, and secondly that where narrow medians are used, crash barriers are essential."

But it concluded that "between these two positions, there is considerable difference of opinion as to decision rules relating to median width and most appropriate barrier type.

"The NRA standard is close to the centre of the spectrum of practice in Europe."