BREAKAWAY DEVICES: Hiding in Plain Sight
Signs located along roads and highways are actually designed to fail! This is not some rampant misuse of government funds, or a massive failure of quality control. They are truly supposed to fail, to help keep all of us safer. As an injury lawyer, I see the results of this purposeful engineering in preventing catastrophic injuries in crashes.
In the past, roadside signposts were often giant metal beams sunk in concrete, to make them permanent. Unfortunately, errant cars were sometimes knocked into them with devastating results. It was not unusual to have a car partially split in half as the speeding vehicle was sliced itself on the sturdy signpost like a knife through butter.
Along with improvements in the cars, such as the addition of air bags, breakaway steering columns and crumple zones, highway safety has come a long way. Breakaway signposts are now standard and required by law in most cases. All sign supports within the clear zone of highways signed at speeds of 50 mph or greater were required to be mounted on breakaway supports or be shielded with a barrier by January 1, 2013, per the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices.
These work by giving way, usually kicking out like a broken table leg and often allowing the striking vehicle to pass before the sign collapses.
Safe placement, of course, depends on the structure of the sign, the sign height, the type of vehicle impacting the sign, and the breakaway nature of the sign support when it is impacted.
Previously, signs only gave one or two ways. Newer, crashworthy omni-directional bases are designed to meet safety standards regardless of which direction they are struck. They are required when installing signs and other breakaway hardware near roads with two-way traffic and will likely save more lives.
So today, take a look at that sign on the interstate. The base will have a breakaway point. This secret, hidden in plain sight, might save your life one day. Drive Safely.