NIC Proposal Highlight #302

Over the past several days in the NIC commission, proposition #302 regarding guardrail accidents on freeways and highways has managed to advance through the first two rounds of elimination.

Author Faheem Chunara’s proposal has been described as one of the best many delegates have ever seen, one delegate even going so far as to call it a “Utopia Proposal.”

Each year, there are somewhere in the range of 5,000 guardrail collisions in the US, 60% of which are fatal. This means that over 2,500 people a year are killed in such accidents. This can largely be blamed on the guardrails, the standard steel barriers you see by the sides of highways. These guardrails cause large amounts of damage to cars, can be broken through by larger trucks, and can sometimes deflect an out of control car back into traffic causing secondary collisions. Chunara’s proposal attempts to combat this with the use of new technology.

Evolution in Traffic Innovation, a Korean company, has introduced new guardrails, designed to be as safe as possible for drivers.

The Rolling Barrier System solves several problems. The rails on the top and bottom redirect the wheels of any size car or truck to guide them along the barrier and prevent both loss of control and rear-end secondary collisions. When a car impacts the barrier, a standard guardrail would attempt to absorb the energy of the impact, often unsuccessfully.

Instead, the RBS converts this energy into rotational energy of the barrels to slow the car via rotational friction. These barrels are highly resilient and made of EVA–similar to rubber but lighter and more elastic than urethane. The barrels are equipped with reflective sheeting for better visibility at night.

The biggest setback in this proposal is a high financial investment. The new system costs $70,000 per mile including labor and installation, which adds up to $350,000 for the five miles proposed. However, this money is available in the form of FAST grants–$850 million for the fiscal year of 2017. After the initial investment, maintenance costs would be lower due to the highly modular nature of the system, and only the damaged pieces would need to be replaced.

Under the new proposal, the Federal Highway Administration would have one month to implement five miles of this new type of guardrail on a highway or freeway with a history of guardrail collisions. After this initial pilot, more would be know about the system’s effectiveness. The FHA could then look into a larger scale implementation.

If the proposal passes the third commission, it will move on to the general assembly to be debated and voted on by all of the NIC. Who knows, one day, this so-called “Utopia Proposal” may even become a reality.

Author: Winston Moore

SDSC/Magdalena Ecke