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Crash barriers should be redesigned to make them more motorcycle-friendly, according to the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM). The road safety organisation warns that while crash barriers have saved the lives of thousands of drivers, hitting a crash barrier is a factor in eight to sixteen percent of rider deaths.

The problem is that most UK crash barriers are designed to protect the most common sort of road user - car drivers and passengers. When a car crashes into a barrier, the barrier works to direct the car away from a hazard and slow it down over a short distance. In addition, the car, seat belts and air bags all work together to help to minimise injury.

Motorcyclists do not have that sort of protection: when motorcyclists hit a crash barrier, their bodies take the full impact, often resulting in serious injury or even death. In fact, when they hit a crash barrier, riders are fifteen times more likely to be killed than car occupants, while the barrier support posts can make injuries five times worse than if the riders had hit the object the barrier was protecting them from.

The IAM highlights research carried out several years ago by EuroRAP, an association of European road authorities, motoring and touring clubs, which set up a panel to look into the issue of motorcycle safety – and more particularly, the safety of road infrastructure in relation to motorcyclists.

The resulting position paper called for:

  • An improvement in research into how riders are killed and injured in crashes that involve road infrastructure
  • New interim guidance on the way in which crash barriers are designed
  • The country-wide mapping, where possible, of high-risk roads for motorcyclists
  • Another look at the European crash barrier testing standard
  • A motorcycle champion in every road safety engineering department.

“Roads in general and crash barriers in particular are largely designed with four or more wheels in mind,” said IAM chairman, Alistair Cheyne OBE, writing in the summer issue of the IAM members’ magazine Advanced Driving. “The needs of more vulnerable motorcyclists must become a priority.”

“Britain leads the world on road safety, but lags behind on this issue,” he warned. “Existing standards and guidelines for road infrastructure – and barriers in particular – must be changed so they take proper account of motorcyclists.”

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