David Morley


David Morley

I RECKON IT’S ABOUT TIME we had a chat about these new wirerope barriers that are going up all over the place. I know there’s a bunch of insurance companies telling authorities that these barriers are a great road-safety initiative, but here’s the reality: these things are going to kill people. Directly and indirectly.

I’m talking about the three-strand wire fences on deformable posts that are lining more and more of our country roads every minute. The idea is that they’ll stop us from randomly running off the road and slamming into whatever roadside trees are standing around keeping the koalas off the deck. But they’re ill-conceived (the barriers, not the koalas). And lethal. And here’s how it’s going to pan out.

For a start, these cheese cutters are instant death to anybody who chooses to travel by motorcycle. And don’t give me that temporary Australian bullshit; a motorcycle is a legal way to get around and, in these times of climate change, a mode of transport that should be encouraged, not turned into a game of Russian roulette. The bottom line is that the wire ropes themselves are going to be like piano wires at 100km/h. And even if the posts are deformable, they’re not as deformable as human flesh.


Another problem is the installation of the barriers. I’m kind of okay with having them in the very middle of a divided road like a freeway, as a means of preventing a car that has lost control from swapping sides and screaming into oncoming traffic. The point being that if you’re that far off the road, you’re already three chapters into your crash.

But what I’m seeing is the barriers being installed right up to the edge of the road on the kerbside and – in some cases near my place – along the centre-line of an undivided road. Well, a previously undivided road, anyway. In fact, there’s a stretch just outside Melbourne where the wires are strung hard up against the running lane with no emergency lane whatsoever, with a central barrier as well, turning the carriageway into, effectively, a one-lane tunnel.

My problem with that is that the ‘experts’ are telling me the barriers will arrest any car that swerves off the road, and that will save lives. Bzzzt. Typically, they’re giving us only one side of the tale. What it will mean is that anybody who haplessly puts two wheels anywhere near the gravel, will be grabbed by the wire ropes and brought to a lurching, panel-crunching stop. What’s the ratio of two-wheels-off whoopsies, to proper, asleep-at-the-wheel road departures? I don’t know, but these barriers are going to turn the former into much bigger incidents.

The other problem with turning a country road into a tunnel is that there’s nowhere to get around an obstruction. Bear in mind, they won’t even slow down a kangaroo or wombat (the two most common things a driver needs to dodge in these parts) so drivers will be forced to rely on their brakes to miss our furry friends. It won’t be enough. Yeah, I know the old adage that you should never swerve to miss a critter, but if you can safely get around them, I always have, even if it means using the other side of the road. Not any more.

But here’s what really bothers me. Since these barriers go for kilometres unbroken, with no emergency lane, what happens when a crash occurs at some point along their length? How do you get an ambulance to the crash site if the single-lane road is blocked with other traffic that got there first? Even a helicopter (should one miraculously be available) can’t land right on the wreckage.

And what about bushfires? What happens when one car conks out along a length of barrier as a whole community is using the same road to evacuate in the face of another Black Saturday?

Fair dinkum, if anybody but an insurance company suggested a road with no way to turn around or get a first-responder to the scene of a calamity was a safer road, they’d be laughed out of town. To refer to these arse-hats as road-safety experts is just an insult. To other arse-hats, mainly. Discuss.