Protective Equipment for Motorcyclists

08 Nov 2020 Infrastructure
When it comes to improving road safety for motorcyclists, the topic of traffic barriers plays an important role in terms of road infrastructure. Studies conducted by various accident researchers indicate that around 80 percent of motorcyclists who lose their lives on the road in Germany do so due to obstacles encountered in non-built-up areas – and around half of this number are killed in accidents involving traffic barriers. The problem is that, by default, countless numbers of traffic barriers are built with their primary goal in mind: that the rail should be at the same height as the hood of a car. While this enables them to offer maximum protection for car drivers, the remaining space between the barrier and the ground represents a huge risk for motorcyclists. If a motorcyclist crashes, there is a danger that they could slide under the traffic barrier or hit one of its supporting posts. In such situations, severe or even fatal injuries are not unusual. However, traffic barriers can also be designed to offer optimum protection for motorcyclists who crash into them.
In many locations, a combination of a large top surface, such as that offered by a box shape, and a secondary rail under the main rail to prevent people from crashing into the posts has proven effective in both crash tests and real-life accidents. The secondary rails used in this design can also be retrotted to many existing systems. For example, the “Euskirchen Plus” system further developed by DEKRA several years ago on behalf of the German Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt), offers motorcyclists involved in collisions a relatively high level of protection. This system was proven to provide an improved protective effect for motorcyclists both when riding upright and when sliding across the road on their side. Thankfully, a statistic published by the as sociation MEHRSi (MEHR Sicherheit für Biker – More Safety for Bikers) shows that road-building authorities are fitting more and more corners and bends in Germany with secondary rail systems: Around 900 bends and corners in eleven of Germany’s sixteen federal states now use secondary rails, covering a total distance of almost 113 kilometers. By way of comparison, in 2010 these systems were employed on just under 500 corners and bends, covering approximately 63 kilometers.


Alongside adding secondary rail systems to protective equipment, replacing the rigid direction signs mounted on steel tubing that are often found at corners with flexible systems is also an important measure for reducing the consequences of injuries following a crash. To this end, the Ministry of Transport for the German state of Baden-Württemberg has joined forces with a local road equip-ment company to develop a plastic curve marker sign. The system, which was first presented in 2014, comprises a sign with an area of 50 square centimeters that is placed on a plastic mount that has the same shape as the old direction post and attached to it using screws.
The added value this innovation provides in terms of road safety was demonstrated in impressive form in a crash test conducted by DEKRA in 2017. In the crash test, a motorcycle traveling at 60 km/h was crashed into the old standard curve marker sign model, “metal plate on a steel post,” then a second motorcycle traveling at the same speed was crashed into the new, plastic curve marker system. The load values measured upon impact with the steel post far exceeded the biomechanical limits, while those recorded upon impact with the curve marker system were well below the limits. A motorcyclist would thus not have survived the crash into the steel post. However, a motorcyclist wearing appropriate protective clothing would have survived the crash into the new curve marker sign with only minor injuries.
Plastic curve marker signs also offer the additional benefit of being very easy for road users to notice. Accident analyses conducted on Federal Highway B500 in the Black Forest area of Germany using the state’s own road safety screening system show that, in addition to lessening the consequences of accidents, their high visibility means that curve marker signs can also have a preventive effect that stops certain motorcycle accidents from occurring at all. Between 2012 and 2014 – a three-year period – there were eleven accidents in the Hornisgrinde area of Federal Highway B500, resulting in two deaths. Between 2015 and 2019 – the five years following the installation of curve marker signs in highly critical areas – there were only seven further accidents, and zero deaths. However, it should be noted that additional measures such as the installation of a second rail system, speed limits, and police speed checks were also implemented within this period.
Finally, no discussion of road planning measures would be complete without mentioning regular maintenance of the road surface. A road surface that has as good grip and is as even as possible plays a key role in the safety of motorcyclists. Insuficient friction coefficients lead to longer braking distances and increase the risk of a motorcyclist losing control when cornering or during evasive maneuvers, which in turn increases the risk of skidding. Grit on corners is also very dangerous for motorcyclists – especially in the first month after winter, or when tractors, cars, and trucks “collect” the grit by the side of the road and carry it onto the road itself. There is always a risk of this occurring and motorcyclists encountering this, even in areas that use modern road sweepers. In addition to this, unevenness can increase the probability of water collecting, which leads to a higher risk of aquaplaning and black ice. This must be taken into account during repairs. In particular, the bitumen mass that is still often used to mend pot holes and cracks in many countries can quickly become dangerous for motorcyclists, as it causes the road surface to become extremely slippery when wet. As such, repairs should always be carried out using materials with a similar friction coefficient to the rest of the road surface, otherwise the exit ramp could end up resembling an ice-skating rink.