Motorcycles and Safety Fence

Published on 26 March 2002 by Gill

Dealings with the Highways Agency's contractors for the Dualling Scheme for the A43 near Silverstone indicated that not only did they not consider motorcycles when choosing the type and location of safety fence but when the hazard that exposed posts pose to riders was pointed out, they claimed that they were forbidden from considering any means of attenuation to protect riders. I was directed to “the Highways Agency in London .” There are some who are concerned by the choice of Safety Line Wire Rope Safety Fence because it retains the lower cables by welded hooks and it is notable that this form of WRSF is to be used for the Dualling Scheme for the A11 near Snetterton as well. The BMF's reservations are with the wider issue of all safety forms of safety fence using exposed posts be it wire rope safety fence (WRSF), tension corrugated beam (TCB) or open box beam (OBB).

It should be made clear that we do not expect all safety fence to be ‘rider friendly' or fitted with attenuation; nor do we have a particular objection to WRSF over other forms of safety fence with exposed support posts. However, we are anxious that motorcyclists should be considered:

  • In the choice and location of vehicle restraints
  • In safety audits related to the use of vehicle restraints
  • In the testing of vehicle restraints in accordance with the relevant standard
  • By including testing of attenuators to protect motorcyclists from exposed posts in the standard
  • By developing attenuators and motorcyclist friendly vehicle restraints 

I put the case as follows:

Research in California , France and Germany has indicated that the usual accident scenario involving a motorcyclist with a vehicle restraint is that the rider initially loses control and falls from the machine sliding into the barrier or safety fence at a shallow angle. Where safety fence with exposed posts is employed, the greater forward speed of a rider leads to a collision with the post with serious and often fatal consequences. Extremities are readily amputated and major internal injuries caused. A similar collision with a featureless concrete barrier or an additional lower beam which covers the posts results in a lower sideways impact with the momentum of the rider scrubbed off by contact with the barrier and road surface. If the rider is wearing adequate protective clothing, injuries should be minimised.

In 1999, the Federation of European Motorcyclists Associations produced its Crash Barrier Report for the European Commission. In this, accident scenarios, types of fence, attenuation devices and rider friendly forms of safety fence were considered. It even included criteria to assess areas of greatest risk i.e. corners where riders are most likely to lose control. In spite of making members of the Highways Agency aware of the report's existence, I have never received any formal acknowledgment that anyone has read it let alone taken on board its recommendations.

Attenuation equipment includes additional lower beams and tubing to cover the posts as in France and expanded polystyrene impact attenuators which surround posts to absorb some of the impact as used in Germany and Austria . It has not been the intention in the FEMA Crash Barrier Report or or the BMF to call for such equipment to be used on the whole network of safety fence but in areas of greatest risk as recommended set out by FEMA in its report.

Safety fence is approved to EN 1317 by projecting cars of 900 kg and 1500 kg at 110 kph at a 20 degree angle and trucks at a 15 degree angle. No testing is undertaken with motorcycles or dummies and there are no tests for attenuation equipment. We consider that both dummies and attenuators should be included in future tests of safety fencing to EN 1317.

In 1997, as a result of a disagreement between TRL and International Motorcycle Manufacturers' Association over the methodology of testing leg protectors and air bags, the International Standards Organisation developed a standard for testing this equipment on motorcycles. It included means of accurately projecting test motorcycles at test cars and a specification for a fully and internally instrumented dummy. This ISO standard could readily be adapted to test the effects of vehicle restraints and attenuators on motorcyclists.

In A New Deal for Transport, the Government introduced the New Approach To Appraisal (NATA) criteria. NATA is a set of criteria that all proposed transport/road schemes must meet. It covers economy, environment, safety, integration and accessibility. The safety criteria states that schemes must improve safety, reduce accidents and improve security. We are anxious that NATA safety criteria should apply to safety audits for new road schemes and improvement schemes applying to existing roads in which the motorcyclists are taken into account with regard to the use of safety fence.

The DTLR currently considers the value of a statistical life (VSOL) also sometimes called VPL as £1,144,900. In the case of a bereaved father taking legal action against the Government and the Highways Agency for the death of his son through what he considers to be an inappropriately placed and unattenuated section of safety fence, the cost is likely to be higher. There are also costs associated with non-fatal accidents particularly those where the rider is permanently disabled. Hence protecting riders from the exposed posts of safety fence in areas of greatest risk is considered to be cost effective in spite of the relatively low numbers of riders involved.

In dealing with the Highways Agency by correspondence and at its National Road Users' Committee, it has become apparent that they have adopted a callous attitude towards motorcyclists because of the relatively low numbers involved in collisions with vehicle restraints on English trunk roads and motorways. I was informed that “The review of statistics for the year 1995 indicated that motorcycle accidents accounted for only 4% of the impacts with safety fences but that these were only 0.07% of the total motorcycle accidents. Limiting the accident study to trunk roads reveals that approximately 3% of motorcycle injury accidents involved safety fences.” It was admitted that the breakdown of severities is not known. Yet this has failed to take into account the increase in motorcycle usage and installation of safety fence since 1995 with the inevitable increase in risk. The Highways Agency has never fully properly acknowledged the existence of the FEMA Crash Barrier Report in spite of my having e-mailed it to several members of the Agency. At National Road User Committee meetings, although this has led to meetings with specialists in the Agency, the subject has received no consideration in depth. The Agency also claims that when tests involving safety fence with attenuators for motorcycles have been carried out, the attenuators have adversely affected the function of the fence in retaining errant vehicles.

I have been made aware that the Highways Agency has undertaken a study of safety fence which has recently been completed. It is not clear whether this commenced prior to the Selby rail crash and was delayed pending the apportionment of blame or took place as a result. Nevertheless, my understanding was that it was conducted by a consultant, Colin Wilson who was formerly an employee of the DoT Highways and Bridges Division. I asked for the FEMA Crash Barrier Report to be copied to him but have been given no indication whether this has been undertaken.

It has been claimed that the study concluded that there are no serious shortcomings in the existing safety barrier standards and their application to the nearside of major roads, but that road designers would benefit from a more detailed explanation of the derivation of the advice. It also recommends a clearer, more open procedure for updating the standards relating to safety barriers and the incorporation of the latest UK research and international experience. A revised safety barrier standard will be issued later this year but presumably, it will take no account of interactions with motorcyclists.

While England 's Highways Agency has failed to consider the concerns of motorcyclists, a more positive attitude has been adopted in Norway and Sweden . With the increased use of safety fence which is predominantly WRSF as part of Vision Zero, riders became increasingly concerned about the hazard of exposed posts. As a result, the Norwegian Public Roads Administration has been working with riders organisation NMCU to develop a motorcyclist friendly form of safety fence. They have developed a wire rope safety fence in which four cables are secured to one side of the support posts above one another by knock out clamps. Each pair of cables is bonded together by a ‘beam' of recycled plastic which covers the posts while adding little to the cost. Providing the lowest cable is less than 10 cm above the ground it is considered that fallen riders will be protected from the posts. Computer simulations have been positive to date and full testing to EN 1317 is anticipated when weather permits. Perhaps the AGM can recommend that the Highways Agency actively considers this form of safety fence if it achieves EN approval.

See also Federation of European Motorcyclists Federations - Final Report of the Motorcyclists and Crash Barriers Project here

Trevor Magner

Lasr reviewed/updated 24/02/05