Guardrails Can Make the Roads Less Safe for Motorcyclists
When motorists travel the streets of Atlanta and roadways throughout Georgia, guardrails are a common safety feature that is designed to prevent roadway departures, life-threatening injuries, and fatalities. However, guardrails can pose a serious danger to those who ride motorcycles. A tragedy earlier this year serves as a tragic reminder that guardrails have the potentail to be far from a "safety feature" for riding enthusiasts.
Following a funeral, a retired police officer who had served as a funeral escort suffered serious injuries when he hit a guardrail while riding in Cherokee County. After the retired officer hit the barrier, he flew over the guardrail and was treated for injuries to his shoulder and leg. It is important to note that this incident involved an experienced former motorcycle cop who was working at the time of the crash, though not in an official law enforcement capacity. Novice riders might be expected to fair even more poorly when inadvertently making contact with a guardrail.
The risk posed to motorcyclists by guardrails was the subject of a research paper entitled "The Emerging Risk of Fatal Motorcycle Crashes with Guardrails" prepared by Professor Hampton C. Gabler of Virginia Tech University. He aggregated motorcycle accident data from multiple sources and found the following:
- While car accident fatalities had declined over the five year period of the data studied, motorcycle fatalities increased by a more significant rate.
- 10 percent of all accidents involving motorcycles hitting guardrails resulted in the death of the rider. This fatality rate was eighty times greater than for occupants in four-wheeled vehicles.
- Although motorcycles comprised only one out of fifty registered motor vehicles at the time of the study, riders accounted for 42 percent of all guardrail-related fatalities.
Guardrails are designed to protect occupants of larger vehicles, like semi-trucks and passenger cars. These roadside barriers also are designed with closed vehicles in mind rather than open vehicles such as motorcycles. These roadside features can prevent cars from departing the roadway and hitting a fixed object or other hazards. However, a guardrail can make the roads less safe for motorcyclists because it often will stop the bike and cause the rider to be thrown from the motorcycle. Further, the posts used to anchor guardrails can cause blunt force traumatic brain injuries and other serious types of bodily harm. Although safer guardrail designs are available, such as those without abrupt edges or sharp or protruding posts, government entities have been slow to implement changes due to cost.
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