36-tonne truck used in world-first bridge barrier crash tests

Testing that involved crashing a 36-tonne truck travelling at 90km/h into a bridge barrier is being used as part of a project centred around the safe design of bridge barriers.

The testing was carried out by Austroads, which is the association of Australian and New Zealand transport agencies, representing all levels of government.

Austroads has now published video footage of the world-first crash testing on medium performance level bridge barriers, which was conducted in Christchurch, New Zealand, in July 2023.

This formed part of Austroads’ project to verify the compliance of bridge barrier designs and guidelines against recently updated Australian standards.

Austroads’ crash test was a world first as it involved a 90 km/h test speed for the articulated truck compared to the 80km/h test speed required for the AASHTO Manual for Assessing Safety Hardware test.

Along with the truck, a sports utility vehicle and a small passenger were also used in the testing.

Medium performance level bridge barriers are the most common type of bridge barrier across Australia and New Zealand.

The tests results are being used to confirm if the structural performance of this bridge barrier design meets the requirements of the Australian Standards, and the AASHTO Manual for Assessing Safety Hardware.

The AASHTO MASH was published in 2009. It introduced a new way of testing and evaluating safety hardware on US highways. Since 2018, Austroads has progressively transitioned to MASH tested products. No bridge barrier in the world was tested against these modified MASH requirements prior to this crash test.

Nigel Powers, national leader of asset performance at the National Transport Research Organisation (NTRO), explained, “The work we’ve completed so far on this project is to do a literature review looking at international best practice. We’ve looked across Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere in the world to look at best practice for bridge design.”

Dummies were also used in the testing, which were the approximate the size and weight of an adult woman and a small child for the crash test of a sport utility vehicle. Traditional crash testing is often performed using male dummies, and Austroads says the data generated by this test provides valuable insight on how high-speed crashes can affect these types of vehicle users.

Austroads chief executive Geoff Allan explained, “There are two reasons why we initiated this project. Firstly, there have been changes to the Australian Standards for bridge barrier design. Secondly, it was clearly important to the Austroads Board that as technology changes, as barrier design improves, that the latest standards continue to be made available to our members.”

Austroads plans to update the 2013 Austroads Standardised Bridge Barrier Design Guidelines to align with the current Australian Standard AS/(NZS) 5100: Series 2017 – Bridge Design, Australian Standard AS/(NZS) 3845: Series 2017 – Road safety barrier systems and devices and the AASHTO MASH. Austroads expects to release the updated guidelines, research report and webinar in 2024.

“Conducting these crash tests into bridge barriers is important to our members because the testing itself is proof of concept, demonstrating that it works in the real world. We expect the outcomes of this project to significantly enhance bridge barrier design and maintenance practices in Australia and New Zealand,” Allan added.

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