The Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s (TTI’s) Roadside Safety and Physical Security Division has been protecting occupants from roadside hazards since the 1960s. From the early days, this facility — located on the Texas A&M-RELLIS campus — has served as a test site for countless research projects improving both safety on the roadways and security of critical infrastructure. While technology has evolved over the years, some core principles have remained the same. “We’re a family of wide-ranging, highly skilled individuals that come together to promote safety on our roadways and provide a great service to our sponsors,” says TTI Assistant Research Scientist Jim Kovar. “While the early days involved connecting oil drums to form the first crash cushions, the team has evolved into an ISO 17025–accredited laboratory offering a diverse range of testing environments, advanced equipment and expert personnel.”
The Roadside Safety and Physical Security Division is comprised of three programs: the TTI Proving Grounds, the Roadside Safety Program and the Infrastructure Protection Program. These programs serve as a hub for collaboration with industry partners, academic institutions, government agencies and research organizations.
TTI Proving Grounds
At the heart of the TTI Proving Grounds lies the unique testing infrastructure. The facility features a large area of concrete runways and aprons, enabling researchers to study various roadway conditions, including the development of roadside safety hardware such as guardrails, bridge rails, crash cushions, and sign and luminaire supports. TTI researchers perform full-scale, high-speed crash tests on these roadside safety devices and perimeter security devices. The runways and aprons incorporate diverse surface materials, gradients and intersections that offer an accurate representation of real-world conditions. The Proving Grounds also includes specialized V-shaped ditches, allowing researchers to conduct advanced roadside hardware assessments and vehicle transversability studies. Researchers also use a series of surrogate vehicles, which provide a cost-effective and reusable method for component testing.
TTI’s ISO 17025–accredited Proving Grounds laboratory provides testing and evaluation services for the division’s research projects. Testing has included evaluating a wide range of vehicle sizes, from a seated motorcyclist to a fully loaded 80,000-pound tractor with semi-trailer. The Proving Grounds ISO 17025 accreditation provides testing services compliant with a wide range of standards, including American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, ASTM International and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) requirements. Various states, federal agencies and private industry entities have contracted with TTI researchers and the Proving Grounds to receive assistance with product development and compliance crash testing.
Roadside Safety Program
The Roadside Safety Program’s primary objective is to develop effective roadside safety solutions that reduce the significant number of fatalities and serious injuries experienced from roadside departures and crashes on our nation’s highways.
“The leading cause of fatalities or serious injuries is run-off-the-road crashes,” says Kovar. “While rumble strips and wide shoulders are the first line of defense in keeping people safe and on the roadway, our division’s work is the last line of defense before encountering a roadside hazard. From steel guardrails to concrete median barriers, it’s hard to drive a mile on Texas roadways without seeing hardware that has been tested or evaluated by the Roadside Safety Program.”
Infrastructure Protection Program
The Infrastructure Protection Program’s primary objective is protecting critical infrastructure from threats and hazards. Through research, analysis and innovative strategies, the program enhances the security of roads, bridges, tunnels and other vital infrastructure components of the transportation network, ensuring functionality and safety.
The program started as the Physical Security Program, which focused on mitigating vehicular ram attacks on high-risk targets. This included developing bollards, gates and concrete solutions for mitigating a vehicle ram attack. Recently, the program was renamed the Infrastructure Protection Program with an expanded scope of focusing on other types of protection for our nation’s critical infrastructure, such as disaster resilient barriers.
All three programs continue to advance technology and procedures to address emerging needs. The Roadside Safety and Physical Security Division has positioned itself to be the nation’s leading research group for evaluating motorcycle impacts with the newly formed Development and Evaluation of Roadside Safety Systems for Motorcyclists Pooled Fund. Researchers have also assisted in authoring the ANSI MH31.2-2021 Test Method for Crash Testing Industrial Guardrail Barriers and Barrier Posts, and the Roadside Safety and Physical Security Division is the lead testing facility. Additionally, the division has researchers who review and inspect adaptive equipment vehicle modifications performed for people with physical disabilities, in cooperation with the Texas Workforce Commission.
The collaborative environment between the three programs encourages the development of solutions that address challenges in transportation, making the division a recognized leader in the areas of roadside safety and physical security design, analysis, testing, and evaluation. Through its ongoing efforts, the division continues to shape the future of transportation by developing innovative technologies and practices that improve safety and efficiency.