Are wire rope barriers ‘rider slicers’?

Wire rope barriers

The dangers to motorcycle riders of wire rope barriers may have been overstated, according to an AustRoads report and the Australian Motorcycle Council.

Motorcycle riders have called wire rope barriers “widow-makers”, “rider slicers” and “people graters”. However, an AustRoads “Improving Roadside Safety” report has found that fixed barriers are more dangerous than semi-rigid or flexible barriers such as rope wires which “were involved in a low proportion of motorcyclist deaths relative to other barrier types”. AMC spokesman Guy Stanford agrees, but only up to a point.

“Wire rope barriers are not particularly worse, but not as bad as some people make them out to be. It’s not the rope that is the problem; it’s the poles supporting them that cause the most injuries,” Guy says. “Any vertical post is the enemy of the rider. The 2000 Barriers to Safety Report found that as you reduce the diameter of the object you hit, injuries go up. Whether it’s a post in a fence or a telephone pole. With Armco there are more injuries because there are so many poles to hit. At Wire rope barriersleast with Armco they can put in a lower rail, but with wire rope, it needs plastic sheathing. At the Melbourne motorcycle show there was a display by a company which had proposed that. It’s a lot more complex and expensive solution to fix.”

Guy says wire rope barriers are becoming prolific on our roadsides because they are cheaper to install. “However, they are expensive to maintain across its whole life,” he says. “The most expensive are concrete barriers which are smooth and that would be our preference. You can still die hitting anything, though.”

He adds a personal anecdote about following a ute which lost its load and sent Guy and his bike into a concrete barrier. “I had no option but to go up against the concrete. I skimmed along the barrier with the end of the handlebar and my knee. Any other fence and I would have been down and gone.”

The dangers of wire rope barriers have been discussed in Federal Parliament and various authorities are now aware of its dangers. The AustRoads report also recommended a roadside safety management program to evaluate roadside hazards and their treatment options. Guy says some remedial work is already being done on existing wire rope barriers, but most remain exposed.

“Stuff is being done on the wire rope barriers on the way to Phillip Island where they have padded the poles and work has also been done in South Australia. The problem is, we don’t know if this has had an effect because when they put it on, people don’t seem to hit them.”

I know what he means … when I see a wire rope barrier, I tense up, slow down and pay extra attention.

  • What experiences have you had with roadside barriers?


  1. If rope barriers are here to stay, then why are they always installed so close to the running lanes?

    The barriers are a danger in themselves being so close to moving traffic, not allowing vehicles of all persuasions room for error or for evasive manouvres. The barriers should be a last resort for vehicles colliding with other traffic or fixed objects (natural or man made) being set well back from the roadway.

    There are many alternative ways to prevent vehicles running off the road that are safer for all road users, costing less in the long term.

  2. The wire rope barriers are also not effective at preventing vehicle intrusion into adjacent traffic lanes – despite the manufacturer’s claims to the contrary.
    A typical sedan hitting one of these wire rope barriers at 100 km/h will penetrate approximately 2.5m past the fence line.
    It is also refreshing for the authorities to finally acknowledge that wire rope barriers are more expensive over their life.

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