Last month a landmark study into HGV cross-over incidents by the Transport Research Laboratory discovered that almost a quarter of fatal accidents could have been prevented by the installation of a “very high containment fence or barrier”.
The TRL’s study examined 39 fatal HGV cross-over accidents that took place on major roads in Great Britain and discovered that the existing steel barriers could not withstand the lateral impact energy from the lorries. In nine cases, the accident could have been avoided if a concrete structure had been in place.
Concrete barrier has the ability to contain vehicles up to 13.5 tonnes which is certainly peace of mind for the majority of motorists on the road. In addition to this, there has not been a single reported incident where a concrete barrier has been breached on British roads. Unfortunately, while we see these encouraging studies unfold, we are still subjected to avoidable cross-over incidents on a weekly basis.
In August, thirteen people were seriously injured in a motorway pile-up when a lorry trailer crossed the central reservation into the opposite carriageway hitting three oncoming vehicles. One of the casualties was subjected to drastic life-changing injuries in the crash which took place between junctions 17 and 18 of the M4.
The pile-up involved three lorries, a coach and four cars – with one seriously injured driver being trapped in his vehicle for two hours. The accident resulted in road diversions being in place for an excruciating thirteen hours, forcing motorists to add an average of two hours to their journey. Horrific accidents such as these are not only deeply saddening but the consequences have a huge knock-on effect on other motorists. In fact, it even affects motorists who are not travelling in the same area at all. In this case, once traffic had been diverted onto other unsuspecting roads, areas such as Chippenham, Bristol and Swindon started to struggle with the sheer weight of traffic.
This is not to mention the vast sums of public money consumed on the man-power needed to attend to such an incident. Ten ambulances, five fire engines and a staggering 34 fire-fighters attended to this particular crash which could have been avoided with the use of a different safety barrier. A concrete safety barrier. A barrier which has seen millions of pounds worth of investment and years of technological research proving its capabilities of reducing cross over incidents.
Campaigners are currently calling for better central motorway barriers to reduce deaths. Tory shadow roads minister Robert Goodwill urged Labour to fund concrete barriers to replace steel ones.
Meanwhile, the Highways Agency, which commissioned the HGV study, says it takes the results seriously enough to replace steel barriers with concrete structures. A spokeswoman says: “What we are saying is the steel barriers are still up to standard but we will replace them eventually. We couldn’t replace them along the whole length of the network it would be too costly.
“The installation of concrete barriers in the central reservation reduces significantly the likelihood of crossover incidents, is essentially maintenance-free, and is unlikely to require repairs after vehicle impact. Therefore the accident risk to road users and road workers on our busy motorways is reduced.”
Could the case for concrete barrier really be any stronger? It CAN save lives, and one day when all steel barriers are replaced by the barrier of choice, thousands of more lives will be saved. Unfortunately, for now, we must discipline ourselves to the waiting game. And as I write this article I recall the news on Radio 1 this morning of another cross-over incident involving steel barrier on the M6. Serious injuries, police struggling to remove vehicles, two lanes blocked, mass congestion…and so on. For now, sadly, it’s just another statistic.