Median Guardrails Improving Safety
Posted December 19, 1999 6:00 a.m. EST
DURHAM — Each year, 50 North Carolinians die in accidents where cars cross the median and slam into oncoming traffic.
To reduce that number, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) is installing guardrails along 1,000 miles of state highways.
In Durham, you see orange barrels just about everywhere because guardrails are on the way. Construction is about to start along the Durham Freeway from I-40 to Fayetteville Road.
There will also be guardrails on US 15-501 north of Pickett Road to I-85.
Much of the guardrailing will be the familiar metal type.
The rest will be the more recently designed cable barriers, which absorb crash impact by stretching up to 12 feet when hit.
The cable guardrails do not look like much, but the DOT says that since the project was finished, there have been no fatal accidents caused by cars crossing the median into oncoming traffic on I-40 from Wade Avenue to Airport Boulevard.
The cable guardrails are not perfect.
In October 1998, a car slid under a damaged cable on I-40 near Highway 54. Remarkably, no one was injured when a woman's car, with her baby son in the backseat, ducked under the cable, crossed the median and slammed into two tractor trailers.
Still, the DOT -- and most drivers -- say you cannot deny the safety boost of guardrails.
In several accidents, the guardrail stopped the vehicles and they did not bounce back into their original lane. Instead, they remained along the divider.
State funds totaling $44 million will be combined with federal funds in a program designed to build 1,000 miles of guardrails in North Carolina. The DOT says it is money well spent.
Since the DOT's guard-rail program began in November 1998, the number of cross-median fatalities in North Carolina has dropped 50 percent.
The DOT says drivers who cause accidents that damage guardrails can be billed for repairs.