Safety Audits of Fatalities Involving Guide Rails

According to the AASHTO Roadside Design Guide, 2002, Table 1.1: Guide rail ranks fourth in the nation in first harmful event fixed -object fatalities. There are over one thousand accidents per year involving guide rail nationwide. In New Jersey, guide rail ranks third after trees and utility poles in first harmful event fixed-object fatalities. Guide rail is supposed to protect the motorist from fixed object collisions within the clear zone. The theory being that injury accidents may increase with guide rail, since the guide rail will be closer to the road then the fixed object it is protecting, but the number of fatalities should be less with guide rail then with the fixed objects it is protecting. This does not seem to be the case in the real world. A synthesis needs (1) to locate and assemble documented information on fatal accidents involving guide rail, (2) to identify all ongoing research on fatal accidents involving guide rail, (3) to learn what problems remain largely unsolved, and (3) to organize, evaluate and document useful information that is acquired. There are areas where guide rail is used to reduce run off the road crashes near positive or negative slopes. These are the areas where if the guide rail were not installed, vehicles would run off the road rolling over multiple times with passenger ejection and death. Depending on the vehicle (2,000 pound compact car versus 80,000 tractor trailer) mass and speed (50 mph versus 80 mph), guide rail might not be satisfactory for all crashes. Even if center barriers were installed at selected locations along the shoulders of roadways instead of guide rail, a new set of problems could be encountered. Feedback is needed on fatal accidents involving guide rail in New Jersey to determine if there are any actions that could be taken to improve their performance. NCHRP Project 22-13 "Performance of Roadside Barriers" (in draft form) states that the items to be collected in their procedure are: highway type, barrier type, exposure, side slope, offset, soil conditions, weather, vehicle type, speeds, tracking, trajectory, installation and maintenance practices and costs, occupant injury, and post-impact conditions. Fatalities are age dependent according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. People over the age of 65 have a higher death rate per capita than any other group. Drivers over 65 will account for 16 percent of all crashes and 25 percent of crash fatalities.