Car vs Pole
Safety on our roads is everyone’s responsibility.
Safety is the sum of many systems working together and a deliberate, combined effort from all involved in the many aspects of safety on our roads. Mistakes are inevitable, but deaths and serious injuries from road crashes are not. The Safe System approach helps make sure all parties play their part in road safety.
At our recent Open Day, we provided a rare opportunity for industry leaders to witness a live, controlled full-scale crash test where we demonstrated the likely outcome of a mid-sized passenger vehicle impacting a timber power pole. We reviewed the results and saw what this crash told us about this type of roadside feature and the need to continually improve our roading system.
- Make and model: 2002 Holden Opal Vectra
- Weight: 1,300kg
- Impact speed: 80kmh
- Critical impact point (CIP): Centre
- Pole: 11m Australian Hard Wood, 450mm diameter
- Installation: 8.5m above ground (2.5m below), powerlines connected to a pole upstream and downstream
The Pole – The initial impact caused the pole to hinge backwards in the soil and in turn deflect along its length. As expected, the top of the pole had greater movement than the base. Movement from the middle to the top of the pole was enough to bring down the test power lines. (Note: Fallen power lines are usually a very real risk, but the connections in our test were not live and were weakened to demonstrate worst case). The deflection split the pole partially along its midsection. In contrast, the movement at the pole’s base was minimal with little permanent movement of the soil surrounding the pole. As a result, while pole damage was significant, the pole remained intact and standing.
The Car – As anticipated the front of the vehicle incurred major damage. The old car possessed a limited crumple zone so most of the impact’s energy would have likely been transferred to the driver/passenger compartment, significantly increasing the risk to occupants, as seen through damage to the inner lining of the windscreen and passenger compartment intrusion. In addition, the ride down accelerations were significant. Overall, the damage to the car was major.
The result was always going to be predictable. When considering which one comes off better in Car vs. Pole – it’s a win for the Pole. The car came in a very distant second. However, had this been a real accident, the real loser would have been the vehicle occupant, or more specifically a family member, friend or colleague! Based on the high degree of vehicle crush and high ride down acceleration (g’s) experienced in this crash the potential for serious injury or even death would have been extremely high. Additionally, if this isn’t bad enough, the fallen power lines (if live) would certainly form a significant risk to both passengers and first responders.
Discussion and recommendations
What should we take from this? How can we make sure accidents like this are completely avoided or at the very least, the severity significantly reduced? As an industry, there are already a multitude of existing solutions at our disposal. Amongst these are;
- Removing hazards completely, including installing powerlines underground or in wider verges away from the roadside,
- Reducing the probability of impact with a hazard (where removing hazard is not practical) by reducing speed limits, increasing road user education, improving hazard warnings (both in the vehicle and on the roadside), upgrading the vehicle fleet to include the latest safety features such as crash avoidance technology.
- Reducing impact severity so if it does occur the risk of serious injury or death is eliminated by isolating the hazard with roadside safety barriers, reducing accident severity with impact attenuators, introducing measures for vulnerable road users and upgrading the vehicle fleet to include safety features such as crumple zones, airbags, etc.
With all these solutions, why do deaths and serious injury still occur? At a fundamental level it is because we, as an industry, let them! To clarify this, traditionally we have looked at the number of deaths or serious injuries as going hand-in-hand with operating a comprehensive and complex transport system. We blame or identify singular causes as being the biggest contributor to death or serious injury. Whilst searching for solutions we say tragedies are unavoidable regardless of how we try to prevent them. If we want to create a truly safe transport system, industry must firstly agree that any death or injury on our transport system is unacceptable. This is the guiding principle behind the “Safe System” approach and other similar directives.
With this in mind, identifying any one cause or solution with the biggest statistic becomes academic. Safety must be considered the responsibility of the whole system, with solutions and developers of those solutions working together in a deliberate and considered manner, rather than in isolated pockets where the return is considered the highest. This is the philosophy of the “Safe System”.
So back to the original question: “How can we make sure accidents like this are completely avoided or at the very least, the severity significantly reduced”? The answer lies in the question. It is “we” who are really going to fix this. Whether you are a planner, engineer, supplier or installer, a policymaker or educator, an enforcement officer or first responder, a utility provider or asset manager or simply a driver, passenger, pedestrian or cyclist, we must take responsibility for our part, no matter how small or large. We must work together to provide a foolproof system where any death or serious injury is considered a failure.