Roadside Safety – The Importance of Maintaining Guardrails


Last month, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report emphasizing the importance of properly maintaining guardrails and other hardware to road safety.  Roadside safety “hardware” most often refers to guardrails and median barriers, but the GAO report also includes several other groups of road safety hardware, such as:

  1. “Longitudinal barriers, which include items such as guardrails and cable barriers and are intended to reduce the probability of a vehicle’s striking an object or terrain feature off the roadway that is less forgiving than the barrier;
  2. bridge barriers, which function as longitudinal barriers but are specific to bridge design;
  3. barrier terminals/crash cushions, which include items like guardrail end terminals that are intended to absorb or divert the energy of a crash into the end of a longitudinal barrier;
  4. support structures, such as sign supports, which are designed to break or yield when struck by a vehicle;
  5. work zone devices, which include a variety of items used in a work zone that are temporary in nature.”

In the report, the GAO explicitly states the objective of all kinds of roadside safety hardware, that goal being “when the hardware contains, redirects, or decelerates the vehicle to a safe stop without causing serious injury to the vehicle’s occupants or other people.”  The GAO report also noted the discrepancies shown in a state by state survey.  The survey demonstrated the inconsistencies in the crash testing results of such road safety equipment across different states.  This is likely due to the lack of a monitoring program by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), a program that the GAO insists should be implemented to provide additional support on scheduled safety upgrades. 

However, the GAO is also questioning the independence of the laboratories performing the crash tests for the roadside safety hardware.  The GAO found that many of the states that did complete the testing and documented the results adequately had parent companies that manufactured the hardware that were being tested.  The report says, “GAO found six of the nine accredited U.S. crash test laboratories evaluate products that were developed by employees of the parent organization—a potential threat to lab independence.”  Lab independence is essential to securing trustworthy crash testing for roadside safety hardware.  Currently, the FHWA does not require third party verification for crash testing, but GAO is recommending the development of a third party verification system in its recent report.  In addition to crash testing, the GAO also urges states to participate in their own in-service performance evaluations of roadside safety equipment.  It appears that the absence of inventory and crash data has contributed to the small number of these evaluations that have actually been performed.


“GAO: More Oversight of Roadside Safety Hardware Needed.” Claims Journal News. N.p., 26 July 2016. Web. 26 July 2016.

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