Flexible State Highway barriers saving lives; authorities

9 May 2017, 10:54 AM

As winter approaches authorities are urging motorists to slow down and take extra care on the Brynderwyn Hills, where 14 kilometres of new flexible safety barriers are already being credited with avoiding more than 20 serious accidents, including likely fatalities.

Northland Regional Council member John Bain says the flexible barriers were installed as part of a long-running and now largely-completed $18 million upgrade of State Highway One on the north side of the Brynderwyns.

Councillor Bain, who chairs the Northland Regional Transport Committee (RTC), says collectively head-on crashes and those where vehicles run-off-the road account for about three-quarters of all crashes on rural state highways.

Flexible barriers physically separate opposing traffic flows and are designed to ‘catch’ vehicles which hit them, preventing traffic from leaving the road or crossing the centre line and colliding with solid objects such as other vehicles, trees and poles.

“If a vehicle hits the wire rope safety barrier, the cables flex, slowing the vehicle and pushing it back into its own lane.”

Councillor Bain says since the barriers’ installation, there have already been at least 20 incidents reported to police where motorists had struck the barriers, although authorities suspect the true number was even higher.

“There’s been a lot of comment about the time these works have taken and the cost and scale of these barriers.  But if you weigh up the tremendous financial costs of serious crash injuries or deaths they’ve already prevented, I suspect before too long these and other safety improvements on the Brynderwyns will have effectively paid for themselves.”

He says as well as the flexible barriers, the multimillion-dollar project had also seen the road and its shoulders widened and the removal of tight corners.  It was now complete, bar some landscaping and final sealing later this year to improve the road’s skid resistance and improve waterproofing.

“Over the years along this stretch of road there have been some pretty horrendous injuries and some totally avoidable suffering sustained by innocent people who were driving correctly in their own lane when someone has crossed the centreline and crashed into them.”

Councillor Bain says as chair of the RTC he’s grateful to the NZ Transport Agency and wishes to express his appreciation on behalf of all users of the heavily-travelled highway for the work it has done since the project began in December 2015.

“I appreciate the delays caused by this work have been frustrating at times for motorists over the past couple of years, but the highway is greatly improved – and much safer – for it.  As a number of people have already observed, if even a single life is saved as a result of this, it’s worth it.”

However, despite the additional protection the barriers and other improvements offer, Cr Bain and police are urging people to continue to drive the Brynderwyns – and other roads and highways – sensibly and cautiously, especially as the wetter winter months loom.

Northland Road Policing Manager Inspector Wayne Ewers says police continue to urge motorists to watch their speed and drive to the conditions.

“Wear your seatbelt, keep left, watch your following distances, avoid alcohol and drugs and if you’re tired, make sure you take a break before continuing.”

Councillor Bain and Inspector Ewers say following these few simple steps goes a long way to preventing most road crashes and will hopefully mean even fewer incidents where the new flexible barriers need to be put to the test.