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Improving barrier safety for motorcyclists

First publishedin World Highways
2011 November December
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police motorcycle parked on spanish road
Spain's roads now feature guardrails fitted with protective devices around or in front of the posts to reduce injuries to motorcyclists

Mike Woof reports on delays to better barrier safety for Europe’s powered two wheeler riders

Safety for vulnerable road users continues to be a matter of some debate in Europe. Although powered two wheelers account for a comparatively small number of Europe’s vehicles as well as total distance travelled, they account for a disproportionately large number of accidents. Statistical data shows that by far the greatest risk to users of powered two wheelers as well as other vulnerable road users comes from drivers of other vehicles. Yet authorities have largely focussed on vehicle safety issues relating primarily to speed, in other words attempting to deal with a symptom rather than the cause.

This lack of understanding of the problem by the authorities has resulted in needless deaths and injuries amongst powered two wheeler users. Despite the threat to this particular group of road users, the benefits of proven safety technologies that could reduce accident severity to riders have not so far been introduced across Europe.
The Federation of European Motorcyclists' Associations (FEMA) in particular has been forthright in its criticisms of Europe’s safety bodies. FEMA has said that the Comité Européen de Normalisation (CEN), the international body that makes standards for products in the European Union, missed a major opportunity to save motorcyclists’ lives.

When CEN's technical committee on road equipment (TC226) held its annual meeting in Stockholm, the draft standard for motorcyclist protection systems was turned into a mere Technical Specification by the United Kingdom, Germany, Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, and Ireland. The ready-to-be-voted guardrail standard is based on Spanish legislation, the only EU country with such a requirement at present and where the regulations are already saving lives. The issue is of note as it means many existing containment barriers, will continue to pose a threat to motor cycle riders.

Conventional steel and wire rope barriers have been widely criticised by motorcycling groups such as FEMA. Although these barriers are designed to contain vehicles and provide redirection back onto the carriageway, they pose impact hazards for motorcyclists.

FEMA has been one of the organisations campaigning hard for the last three years for a change in the European safety regulations, which would require the support posts of barriers to be covered, particularly at known danger spots. However, FEMA says that eight out of 14 countries decided to delay the whole process and turned the draft standard into a Technical Specification.

FEMA’s General Secretary, Aline Delhaye said, “I believe CEN members missed a historical opportunity to make the history of motorcycle safety. What will be done with this Technical Specification is a mystery to me.”
There is some hope for the future however as three MEPs are still calling for roads to be designed in such a way as to protect the lives of motorcyclists, including the requirement for safety barrier post protection.

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SignPost Solutions units
Devices such as these units from SignPost Solutions can also be used at noted danger spots to shroud the posts supporting signs and give additional protection to motorcyclists
The decision to downgrade the draft specification was made despite the proven efficiency records of the Spanish Standard on which EN1317-8 draft was based. Since Spain introduced its regulations for approved and protected guardrails and these units were installed, there have been no fatal or serious injury accidents resulting from fallen riders impacting against barrier supports. Support for the draft specification had also come from several CEN technical experts and national delegates. FEMA had also collated numerous testimonies underlining the personal trauma suffered by victims, their families and friends, after accidents against unprotected guardrails.

A study by Professor Jürgen Follmann of the University of Applied Sciences at Darmstadt in Germany and published in 2008 investigated the safety risks faced by motorcyclists in the country. According to the study, some 49% of fatalities and 44% of serious injuries involving motorcyclists in Germany occurred on curves. Of these, some 35% of those fatalities caused by impacts with roadside obstacles could be attributed to riders hitting trees, a factor that caused 8% of serious injuries. Meanwhile 29% were killed by impacts with guard rails, a factor that caused serious injury to 14%. Lastly, 23% of fatalities arose from impacts with ‘other’ obstacles, a factor that caused 19% of serious injuries.

Professor Follman’s study showed that existing road links were primarily designed for cars, buses and trucks, with little thought given to how unforgiving these could be to vulnerable road users such as motorcyclists. FEMA used this study as part of its campaign for better motorcyclist safety.

In spite of this weight of evidence however, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom decided to reduce the scope of the proposed draft standard. Only Belgium, France, Italy, Norway, Portugal and Spain supported the proposal for a European Standard.

Although this is a major setback, FEMA says that it will keep on working at improving statistics, supporting research projects improving protection systems and testing requirements, as well as continuing its campaign of raising awareness of the risks. FEMA will continue to exert pressure for the European standard on road restraint systems (EN1317) to take motorcyclists into account by integrating the technical specification as part 8 of EN1317.

There are numerous proven products designed for use on highways to protect fallen motorcyclists from striking supporting posts on barriers and come from an array of suppliers. These have been tested extensively and are now used widely on the Spanish highway network and to good effect, with systems also being used on sections of road identified as posing a risk in other European countries including Belgium, Italy and the UK. Products already in use in Spain and other countries include those supplied by firms such as Basyc, Congost, Fracasso, Highwaycare, Industrias Duero, Marcegaglia, Motoprotec, Snoline and SCT. Meanwhile concrete barriers, whether slipformed or made from pre-cast sections, also reduce the risk of causing sudden impact injuries to motorcyclists as they do not feature support posts.

The overall cost of introducing such technologies at accident blackspots would not be overwhelming, as has been shown in Spain. And the benefits in terms of reducing casualties would provide overall cost savings to the economy, to say nothing of the advantages in human terms. Given the risk to motorcyclists from inadequate road provision across Europe’s network, it does beg the question why the CEN believes this issue to be insufficiently important to require amendment.

Companies in this article

Comité Européen de Normalisation
European Union
Federation of European Motorcyclists' Associations

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