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Highway Guardrails, While Good, Have Critics

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RALEIGH — Guardrails are saving lives everyday on North Carolina highways. While the state pushes to make roads safer, many say guardrails block their public safety efforts.

Last Thursday's I-95 triple fatality crashcould have been even more deadly.

The collision knocked a U-Haul truck across the northbound lanes over the median, and across the southbound lanes. Somehow, it missed oncoming traffic.

In May of 1998, a driver in similar circumstances was not so lucky. A car crossed the median on the Raleigh Beltline and slammed head-on into another car, killing one driver.

In both crashes, there was no guardrail to act as a barrier to vehicles crossing into oncoming traffic.

North Carolina is in the midst of a major push to install more guardrails. TheHighway Patrolis already seeing the results.

"We're seeing a significant decrease in the number of fatal crashes caused by cars that are crossing the median divider and hitting others head-on," says Sgt. Jeff Winstead of the Highway Patrol.

Still, guardrails have critics.

Some rescue squads, fire departments and law enforcement agencies say the guardrails restrict their access and restrict their ability to do their jobs.

TheNorth Carolina Department of Transportationsays it all comes down to safety first.

The DOT says it takes a car going 65 miles a hour a half-second to cross a highway median. It takes the average driver a full second to react to a situation, and to move his foot from the gas pedal to the brake."

DOT crews finished installing guardrails along I-40 from Wade Avenue to the Durham Freeway in 1994.

Along the same stretch from January 1989 to March 1994, there were 49 accidents and five fatalities.

From April of 1994 until June of 1997, there were no cross-median fatalities, and only one cross-median accident.

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Mark Roberts, Reporter
Keith Baker, Photographer
Kay Miller, Web Editor

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