Guardrail and Barriers

Guardrail and Barriers


Roadway departure (RwD) crashes account for more than 50% of all motor vehicle traffic fatalities. There are a number of reasons a driver may leave the travel lane (e.g., an avoidance maneuver, inattention or fatigue or traveling too fast for weather or geometric conditions). Over the past few decades, different engineering countermeasures have been proposed, implemented and tested by various state and local agencies to mitigate RwD crashes. Improving median or roadside barrier design is one of the most effective countermeasures available to reduce RwD fatal crashes.

These devices suffered damage to their reputation as life savers because of some isolated unfortunate incidents, however the safety benefits beyond any doubt have been proven by numerous research studies. At this juncture, the life-saving qualities of roadside guardrails and median barriers need to be underscored.

ATSSA has a committee dedicated to the advancement of guardrails. The Association’s Guardrail Committee (member login required) works to preserve funding through the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP), a federal program which dedicates funds to infrastructure safety, promote a fully funded Highway Trust Fund (HTF) and other funding opportunities, work with ATSSA chapters and members to develop and deliver government relations services at the state level, encourage members to utilize these services and educate the administration on roadway safety infrastructure.

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Congressman saved by median barrier in Tennessee after roadway departure crash
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Congressman saved by median barrier in Tennessee after roadway departure crash

There are many data points about how guardrail and median barrier save lives on our roadways. Studies show that median and roadside guardrails have been proven as highly effective countermeasures to roadway departure (RwD) crashes.

There are also countless stories from people whose lives have been saved by a median cable barrier or roadside guardrail like Congressman John J. Duncan, Jr., whose life was positively impacted by the lifesaving presence of a median barrier during a serious crash in Knoxville, Tennessee, on Oct. 23, 2009.

Duncan had just returned home to Knoxville, Tennessee from Washington, D.C., on a clear October mid-afternoon. Driving in moderately heavy traffic in the left lane of the Pellissippi Parkway (I-140) the congressman glanced down to adjust his radio. In the moment he took his eyes off the road, a pick-up truck directly in front of him nearly came to a full stop.

In an attempt to avoid a collision, Duncan jerked his wheel. He lost control of his vehicle and went across traffic from the left lane into the emergency lane. His car spun back across the northbound travel lanes, slamming into a concrete median and bouncing back out into traffic, again crossing all three northbound travel lanes. The congressman’s vehicle finally came to a stop in the emergency lane on the right shoulder.

“I still can’t believe that I wasn’t hit or that I didn’t hit somebody else in all that heavy traffic. It is just miraculous,” Duncan said.

The median barrier kept Congressman Duncan’s car from spinning into the oncoming lanes of traffic - preventing a crossover head-on collision.

Duncan’s story is one of many of those who were saved on our nation’s roadways, thanks to guardrail and median barrier. For more information and to read more stories like Duncan’s, visit, and like, comment, and share your own stories using the hashtag #GuardrailsSaveLives.

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