Limits of Permissible Damage in Strong-Post W-Beam Guardrail

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Virginia Tech

Crash tests of strong-post w-beam guardrail have focused entirely on the performance of new guardrail. The risk posed by minor damage modes, e.g. small deflections and missing posts, has never been evaluated. Using finite element models validated by real world crash tests, this study assessed the safety risk of crashes into guardrail with minor damage. The minor damage modes under consideration for this study were rail and post deflection, missing posts, rail flattening, and post/rail separation. Each of these damage modes was evaluated according to the testing protocols laid out in National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Report 350, test level 3. A number of minor damage modes were found to pose significant risks to vehicle occupants and should be repaired as soon as possible. In order of priority of repair, these modes are missing posts, rail and post deflection over 6â , and rail flattening over 50%. Damage modes of less concern were rail and post deflections less than 6â , rail only deflection up to 6â , flattening less than 50%, and separation of the posts from rails. These recommendations were on the conservative side because preventing occupant injury was the highest priority of guardrail performance.

Guardrails with rail and post deflection posed a risk of vehicle vaulting due to lowered rail height and failure of the posts to separate from the rails. This risk would be even greater for guardrails embedded in soft soils, which allow for greater deflection. Guardrails with missing posts frequently resulted in snagging of the vehicle tire on the downstream posts, as well as large increases in the tension carried by the rails during impact. Flattened rails posed a risk of vehicle rollover as they provided a ramp-like surface which caused the side of the vehicle to move upward, greatly increasing the change of override. Flattening also occurs frequently with other damage modes. Pre-existing separation of posts from the rails was found to have very little effect on the crash outcome. Separation of the posts from the rails was desirable as it prevented failure modes that were observed for the rail and post deflection simulations while maintaining the post contributions to lateral strength of the guardrail.

LS-DYNA, w-beam guardrail, Strong-post, Simulation