Effectiveness of cable barriers, guardrails, and concrete barrier walls in reducing the risk of injury

Accid Anal Prev. 2014 Nov;72:55-65. doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2014.06.013. Epub 2014 Jul 6.


Roadway departure crashes tend to be severe, especially when the roadside exposes the occupants of errant vehicles to excessive injury hazards. As a cost-effective method when the clear zone width is insufficient, road barriers are often installed to prevent errant vehicles from colliding with dangerous obstacles or traversing steep slopes. This paper focuses on the safety performance of road barriers in Indiana in reducing the risk of injury. The objective of the study presented here is to compare the risk of injury among different hazardous events faced by an occupant in a single-vehicle crash. The studied hazardous events include rolling over, striking three types of barriers (guardrails, concrete barrier walls, and cable barriers) with different barrier offsets to the edge of the travelled way, and striking various roadside objects. A total of 2124 single-vehicle crashes (3257 occupants) that occurred between 2008 and 2012 on 517 pair-matched homogeneous barrier and non-barrier segments were analyzed. A binary logistic regression model with mixed effects was estimated for vehicle occupants. The segment pairing process and the use of random effects were able to handle the commonality within the same segment pair as well as the heterogeneity across segment pairs. The modeling results revealed that hitting a barrier is associated with lower risk of injury than a high-hazard event (hitting a pole, rollover, etc.). The odds of injury are reduced by 39% for median concrete barrier walls offset 15-18ft from the travelled way, reduced by 65% for a guardrail face offset 5-55ft, reduced by 85% for near-side median cable barriers (offset between 10ft and 29ft), and reduced by 78% with far-side median cable barriers (offset at least 30ft). Comparing different types of barriers is useful where some types of barriers can be used alternatively. This study found that the odds of injury are 43% lower when striking a guardrail instead of a median concrete barrier offset 15-18ft and 65% lower when striking a median concrete barrier offset 7-14ft. The odds of injury when striking a near-side median cable barrier is 57% lower than the odds for a guardrail face. This reduction for a far side median cable barrier is 37%. Thus, a guardrail should be preferred over a concrete wall and a cable barrier should be preferred over a guardrail where the road and traffic conditions allow. In the light of the results, installing median cable barriers on both sides of the median to reduce their lateral offset is beneficial for safety. The study also found that the unexplained heterogeneity across vehicles is much larger than it was across matched segment pairs.

Keywords: Probabilistic model; Random effects; Risk of injury; Road barriers; Safety.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic / statistics & numerical data*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Environment Design / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Indiana / epidemiology
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical
  • Protective Factors
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Wounds and Injuries / epidemiology*
  • Wounds and Injuries / prevention & control