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Malaysia’s toll highways getting more deadly

POSTED BY Yamin Vong ON 24 July 2018

Dear Minister of Works, YB Baru Bian

We think you can prevent more road deaths than any other person in Malaysia.

You need to leverage on two of your agencies:

  1. The Malaysia Highway Authority to impose more modern highway standards on the toll concessionaires.
  2. The Malaysian Institute of Road Safety (MIROS) to regularly publish more data on traffic crashes especially cross-over median traffic crashes.

Mati Katak is a Malay term that loosely translates into “needless, sudden death”.

Four innocent people were killed and another four injured (some for the rest of their life) in a cross over crash on a clear mid-day this month.

A truck-trailer combo heading north on the PLUS highway near Rawang hit a car and crossed over into the opposite traffic, crashing three cars.

Cross over crashes are said by the four times more severe because it involves frontal collisions at highway speeds. And we will have increasingly more cross over crashes on Malaysian tolled highways simply because traffic is growing without appropriate action being taken.

The kinetic energy median barrier system has been around since the ‘80’s when a British company, Brifen, introduced engineered kinetic energy system to restrain the impact load of thousands of tonnes of a loaded truck.

The wire rope kinetic system employs a matrix of cables and posts to restrain and deflect all vehicles to within their flow of traffic.

But it’s not easy to convince traditionalists. The Florida Department of Transport were only convinced in 2005 after it  trialed three brands of cable wire system for the median barrier on the 309 mile tolled highway between Miami-Dade and Central Florida.

On a full year after installation of the wire rope system, traffic fatalities from cross over crashes had dropped from an average of 25 a year to four a year.

So, it’s not unlikely that traditionalist highway engineers in the LLM had their way on recommending metal barriers.

That was also the philosophy of the engineers on the Mumbai Pune Expressway. They agreed that cable rope median barriers reduced the severity of crashes but they anyhow declared that they were going to recommend W-Beam metal barriers for the highway median because they were cheaper and lower in maintenance. Unsurprisingly, the sanctity of toll collection was left unsaid.

Could it be that toll concessionaires have a cosy relationship with the LLM. If the metal beam prevents toll cheats, why waste money on a more expensive system, even though proven safer?

Thailand’s highways have no median barrier. And they have no tolls except those overpasses in Bangkok. A gradual walled ditch is used as a traffic separator.

On one of the first drives of the 4×4 Adventure Club of Kuala Lumpur to Kunming, Yunan, China, we had a participant who had a near crash.

The owner of the Land Rover Discovery was clearly fatigued by the long drive and at night, somewhere north of Bangkok, he dozed off at the wheel.

The car wandered into this ditch in the median and the bumps and sudden swaying of the car woke the driver. He reacted by steering the big SUV back on the road. Without any significant damage to the car or injury to passengers.

If it hadn’t been a permanent four-wheel drive vehicle with high ground clearance, I think the outcome would have been grim.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, one study found that the odds of injury, as compared to hitting a hazardous object (e.g., utility pole, tree, wall, building, etc.), were reduced by 39% when hitting a concrete median barrier, 65% when hitting a guardrail, and between 78 and 85% when hitting a cable median barrier.

According to another study “Effect of guardrail on reducing fatal and severe injuries on freeways: Real-world crash data analysis and performance assessment” in the Journal of Transportation Safety & Security authored by Ning Li, Byungkyu Brian Park, and James Lambert, University of Virginia:

The abstract of their study:

Although guardrail systems are designed to reduce crash impacts for errant vehicles, the actual effects of in-service guardrail on reducing crash severity have been rarely validated and quantified. This article uses real-world guardrail and crash data to assess the effectiveness of guardrail systems in reducing fatal and severe injury crashes. A roadway departure crash severity model is developed using binary logit model, and statistical proportion tests are conducted to compare roadway departure crash severity with and without guardrail hits. Both methods suggest that hitting guardrail could reduce the probability of fatal and severe injury by about 45% to 50% and that the reduction is statistically significant. A unique approach of this article is to pair each roadway departure crash hitting a guardrail with the corresponding guardrail inventory using advanced spatial analysis technique so that the effects of different guardrail types on crash severity can be explored. The results indicate that strong post W-Beam guardrail results in significantly more fatal and severe crashes as compared with the low tension cable system. The findings of this article provide practical values for developing data-driven and risk-based guardrail investment and cross-asset resource allocation strategies.