Barriers: Is there is a difference?

How do you, as a driver, feel about traffic barriers? Yes, those cumbersome, fluorescent plastic hurdles that have seemingly been placed around roadways to hinder your daily commute. In reality, these traffic barriers are actually placed to enhance and protect your driving experience, as well as reduce potential collisions. Traffic barriers (sometimes referred to as crash barriers), also come in a variety of shapes and sizes, each used to occupy various traffic zones, depending on the circumstance and location. Essentially, they can be categorized in two ways: by the function they serve, and by how much they deflect when a vehicle crashes into them. These traffic barriers can be broken down into four groups, each equipped with their own individual performance. They are determined as follows:

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Roadside barrier: used to protect traffic from roadside obstacles or hazards, such as slopes steep enough to cause rollover crashes, fixed objects like bridge piers, and bodies of water. Roadside barriers can also be used in wide medians to prevent vehicles from colliding with hazards within the median. It acts as an additional perimeter, as seen in the picture below:

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Median barrier: used to prevent vehicles from crossing over a median and striking an oncoming vehicle in a head-on crash. Unlike roadside barriers, they must be designed to be struck from either side. These barriers are normally constructed from reinforced concrete. While they will only deflect a minor amount of damage from a vehicular collision, the shape of the concrete is designed to redirect a vehicle into a path parallel to the barrier.

Bridge barrier: designed to restrain vehicles from crashing off the side of a bridge and falling onto the roadway, river or railroad below. It is usually higher than roadside barrier, to prevent trucks, buses, pedestrians and cyclists from vaulting or rolling over the barrier and falling over the side of the structure. Bridge rails are usually multi-rail tubular steel barriers or reinforced concrete parapets and barriers.

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Work zone barrier: used to protect traffic from hazards in work zones. Their distinguishing feature is they can be relocated as conditions change in the road works. Two common types are used: temporary concrete barrier and water-filled barrier. The latter is composed of steel-reinforced plastic boxes that are put in place where needed, linked together to form a longitudinal barrier, then filled with water. These have an advantage in that they can be assembled without heavy lifting equipment, and can be shipped to the location of the work zone much more economically than temporary concrete barriers.

Work zone barriers are primarily the most recognized, but as covered above, traffic barriers can range from providing positive protection to workers in a small construction site to regulating the efficiency of highway traffic. Their main objective is to prevent possible fatalities or car related injuries, as well as preserve the safety of those working to improve our streets and highways. So next time you’re driving past one of those fluorescent pieces of plastic, regard them as a convenience, not a nuisance!