Despite a worldwide pandemic that shut down businesses and kept most workers at home through the spring and much of the summer, 37 Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) Roadside Safety and Physical Security Division employees have conducted a near-record number of crash tests.
“Typically, we complete 50 to 60 crash tests each fiscal year here at the RELLIS Campus,” explains Senior Research Engineer Lance Bullard, division head. “Our fiscal year ends Aug. 31, and by that date we’d conducted 112 full-scale crash tests.”
Why twice as much work? The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and other state DOTs across the country are working to ensure their roadway safety hardware (e.g., barriers, guardrails, crash cushions) meet new crash-performance standards adopted by the federal government in 2016.
“The Manual for Assessing Safety Hardware, or MASH, was changed to, among other things, reflect the nation’s changing vehicle fleet,” Bullard points out. “Vehicles have gotten taller and heavier, so that means the safety equipment could react differently in a crash. We all need to make sure we’re as safe as possible on our roadways.”
Bullard says a newly developed pooled-fund program is another reason for increased testing. Twenty-eight states and a Canadian province banded together and pooled their research dollars so TTI can help them design, develop and crash-test safety hardware that complies with the MASH standard.
Considering the division’s testing volume since 1990, fiscal year 2020 will go into the history books as TTI’s second busiest year for crash tests. The busiest (by four tests) was in 1995.
New and innovative roadside safety devices are also being developed and tested. For example, TxDOT is working with TTI engineers to design a fence system that attaches to the top of a concrete barrier so that motorcycle riders don’t go over the barrier and suffer more severe injuries during a crash. Another example involve testing underway with manufacturers of storefront bollards to determine if their products can successfully keep vehicles from crashing through storefronts and restaurant windows.
“Yes, we have been busy, with no letup in sight,” Bullard says. “We are booked solid through February 2021. But there is plenty of job satisfaction. Everything we do here is designed for just one thing: saving lives.”