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Enhancing Road Safety
March 1, 2013   
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Is there a way to prevent vehicles from swerving into oncoming traffic or colliding with objects by the side of the road? Polish engineers have developed a smart barrier system to protect drivers and passengers from injury.

Their “Active Intelligent Road and Bridge Restraint System” has won a gold medal at the Brussels Innova International Exhibition of Innovation, Research and New Technology. The inventors are Tomasz Kula, TadeuszDzienis, MichałKarkowski, EwaWicher and DawidKucharski from the Road and Bridge Research Institute in Warsaw.

The effectiveness of existing road and bridge safety barriers to a large extent depends on the thickness of the steel from which these barriers are made and on the number of barriers used. There are different levels of effectiveness of such systems for vehicles of different weight. If there is heavy traffic of lightweight vehicles on the road, structures suitable for passenger cars are used. On the other hand, roads often used by trucks need to be provided with solid and higher barriers to protect vehicles from veering off the road and onto the opposite lane. However, such barriers pose a risk to passenger cars—for a passenger car, colliding with such a restraint system may result in severe damage and injury to the driver and passengers.

In order for roads to be safe for both passenger cars and heavy trucks, two different methods are generally used, the Warsaw inventors say. The first method is based on a mixed design made up of a low-impact barrier designed to restrain a lightweight vehicle and a heavy-duty barrier for trucks (a heavy vehicle will crash through the first barrier and be stopped by the second one). This system, however, requires the presence of a wide belt of greenery, for example, the inventors say.

The other method is based on installing mixed barriers designed to restrain heavy vehicles while causing only little damage to passenger cars—no one will die, though the driver and passengers may suffer injuries and fractures.

“Our design is safe for both lightweight and heavy vehicles,” says the Road and Bridge Research Institute’s Karkowski.

How is this possible? This results from the use of composite materials and containers with liquid that absorb the impact and cause only minor damage to passenger cars.

The innovative restraint system is studded with electronics. In contrast to conventional passive safety systems, it adjusts the level of impact absorption to vehicles of different weights in an “intelligent” way. This impact sensing system explains why the barrier will effectively restrain both a 13-ton bus traveling at a speed of 70 kph and a 900 kg passenger car moving at a speed of 100 kph, Karkowski says.

The researchers at the Road and Bridge Research Institute have found that such a design is about 20-30 percent safer for lightweight passenger cars than an all-steel barrier. Tests have shown that a vehicle will survive the crash undamaged, and its driver and passengers will not sustain injuries.

The barrier is equipped with a system of automatic information about road accidents. This makes it possible to shorten the time of emergency service response and thus increase the chances of survival for the victims.

The new smart barrier is relatively narrow and does not require a lot of free space for assembly. It is designed for installation on roads and bridges, and at tunnel entrances. It can also be used to increase the safety of vehicles colliding with objects close to the road that cannot be moved.

The invention has obtained the necessary certificates for use across the European Union. The Road and Bridge Research Institute is in talks with a German company that is preparing to use these barriers in Germany, where work is in progress to replace many old barriers that were built several decades ago.

“In Poland, our system has already been applied in the Bydgoszcz area. We expect further applications once road builders begin their new season,” Karkowski says.

Karolina Olszewska
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