The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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August 26, 2013

DOH explains how guardrails deter accidents rather than stop vehicles from going over cliffs

PRINCETON — While guardrails are a common feature on the mountainous roadways of West Virginia, not all motorists realize how guardrails are used to keep roads safe.

Tom Camden, manager of West Virginia Division of Highways District 10, explained that guardrails are more often used to deter accidents rather than preventing vehicles from going over cliffs or ravines.

“Guardrails are themselves an obstruction,” he said. “You have to determine if a guardrail would actually make an area safer or just make accidents in the area worse.

“Normally, when it comes to new installation of guardrails, we pick areas where there have been multiple requests from the public or local entities or where a traffic study has indicated a guardrail may be of use.”

While guardrails are used to keep motorists safe, Camden said not many people realize guardrails are supposed to be used more as visual cues than barriers to prevent accidents.

“Guardrails are supposed to guide you onto the road or help you register where the safe place on the road is for your vehicle,” Camden said. “Odds are if you hit a guardrail it won’t stop your vehicle. It may slow your vehicle down if you hit it at the right speed, right angle and depending on your vehicle. A lot of people want guardrails to protect their personal property.”

Camden said the DOH gets the most guardrail requests not in particularly mountainous areas but rather areas with the largest amount of road.

“Given the terrain, we get guardrail requests equally out of all the counties we serve,” he said. “We do get more requests from the counties with more roads, particularly Mercer and Raleigh in District 10. Of course, we do more work repairing guardrails we already have than putting in new ones.”

A mix of state funding and insurance claims helps cover the cost of replacing guardrails, Camden said.

“We have a certain amount of money we get each year specifically for guardrail repair,” he said. “We can also claim property damage on a guardrail against a person’s insurance if they hit one of our guardrails. Funds for routine maintenance also go toward replacing guardrails.”

District 10 is currently in the process of bidding out a new contract for guardrail replacement in Mercer, McDowell, Raleigh and Wyoming counties. Camden said guardrail work is done through contract rather than in-house because of the special equipment required for installations.

“The company we contract with will handle any new installation of guardrails and all repairs for a year,” he said. “It is generally included for them to repair guardrails damaged due to accidents. Typically, the contracts are good for a year. This one will expire on June 30, 2014, but may have a grace period while we work out our next contract. This will only cover state roads or road managed by the DOH.”

— Kate Coil is a reporter for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.

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