Motorists likely take it for granted, but countless hours of engineering and research go into planning even some of the most mundane components of our transportation system. That includes guardrails lining thousands of miles of U.S. roads. A recent study shows said guardrails may be due for a raise, though.
The study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Midwest Roadside Safety Facility shows the current guardrails would benefit from a couple of extra inches. At present, the standard height is 31 inches, but the study proposes that be raised to a new height of 36 inches.
Why? It takes larger and taller vehicles more into account while still protecting smaller cars. The key is to protect as many different types of vehicles as possible. It's tricky business, too. Researchers found, through crash tests and simulations, that 36 inches protected a small vehicle—a 2003 Kia Rio was used in testing—and reduced the risk of pickup trucks mounting the guardrail and rolling over. However, 37-inch-tall guardrails produced immensely different results.
That extra inch allowed small cars—again, a Kia Rio was used—to sneak under the guardrail and effectively be pinned underneath. That scenario could be fatal for many motorists, and ensuring components don't pierce the cabin in the event of a wreck is essential.
There's still work to be done after the latest findings, however. The computer simulations are able to prove many of the safety recommendations' benefits, but the university will soon crash test pickup trucks to see the real-world effects of the raised guardrails on that particular type of vehicle.