Material Poverty

The commitments made by Brazil for safer traffic, such as adherence to the United Nations’ “Second Decade of Action for Road Safety (2021-2030)” in parallel with the adoption of the “3 stars or more” criteria of the International Road Assessment Programme (iRAP), as well as efforts in normative updates led by various entities and associations, have caused the country to reconsider some basic concepts about the performance of its highways, both public and concessioned. However, several experts have pointed out that there is still a need to further improve not only the supervision of the correct implementation of safety devices but also the quality of these, to effectively achieve the set objectives. And in this sense, there is an impactful question: the type of post that supports road signs and its behavior in a potential collision with a vehicle veering off the track.

Wood. Omnipresent, cheap, easy to handle, and easy to find. A low-cost solution for road sign supports, perfect for a “developing” country that has a strong emphasis on “planting forests” and, after all, is an abundant provider of such category of inputs, on a world-class level. Thus, this matter could end here, were it not for important aspects to be raised when the subject is limited to the nature, function, and performance of this seemingly simple yet in many cases decisive element on our roads. Such a sensitive issue that the updated MASH standardization (Manual on Assessing Safety Hardware – as translated from sworn documents that Rodovias & Vias had exclusive access to) from the United States prohibits the use of barriers (posts and plate supports) with this material on roads managed by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the entire National Highway System (NHS), in projects implemented after the adoption of the standard. And for good reasons, as illustrated by images from vehicle impact tests (Crash Tests) conducted in a controlled environment by the Department of Transportation (DOT) in Texas. “It became evident that wood does not meet the requirements, for several reasons. Besides breaking normally near the knots, it splinters, forming potentially puncture-sharp ends that, as demonstrated, can penetrate the vehicle’s cabin and the remaining bases of these splinters, normally made as stakes for deep embedding, also detach, which besides hitting the vehicle itself, can impact others passing on the road and even people nearby, with considerable force, probably resulting in serious injuries”, evaluated Fábio Cunha, director of Renovaurb, the company that developed and holds the worldwide patent for the collapsible safety post, the Ecopost. “Even supports with correctly treated wood, as was the case for these MASH compliance tests, break in this manner, which led to the effective disapproval by the road agency. We became aware of these reports and the associated requirements when we requested the eligibility protocol for exporting the Ecopost product there, a process that is currently ongoing”, pointed out the director.

The invisible enemy

Going beyond the rather poor performance of wooden supports compared to other more sophisticated ones, there are more serious problems, as explored by the Road Safety expert, engineer Valter Luiz Vendramin in the article “Collapsing to Save Lives,” in edition 133 of Rodovias & Vias: the treatment of these with highly toxic products, restricted or even prohibited in other countries, such as CCA – Chromated Copper Arsenate – which contains arsenate that is “popular” (if one can consider a poison popular), arsenic, which depending on the exposure and absorption is lethal. Consulted, the engineer also pointed out that “The lack of traceability of wooden supports, as well as the absence of a policy that includes logistic reversal, the collection of this material, is not only harmful to humans and animals but also absolutely detrimental to the environment because the disposal occurs without any kind of control. This wood full of residues – and this is not uncommon – is dumped anywhere, acting as a powerful contaminant against the soil, groundwater, and watercourses.

This when the unusable material is not simply burned, releasing this poison into the atmosphere”, he warned. Furthermore, the specialist raised that “from the perspective of durability, also the widely used wooden support does not make much sense, since it is intended for a sign that will have a much longer durability. Putting it into perspective, a wooden support, even with the right treatment other than CCA – which includes a minority – lasts an average of 3.5 years without rotting. On the other hand, the plate can surely resist for more than 10 years, needing only its reflective surface replaced.

So, replacing only the support in a shorter period, from the perspective of road operation, besides being counterproductive, represents a danger to those who will handle the material, in addition to the inherent risks of an activity that normally takes place on the road without traffic interruption”, he said, continuing: “In a context where there is so much attention to socially and environmentally sustainable practices and ESG, with society, companies, and funding institutions becoming increasingly demanding regarding the impacts they exert and even the responsibilities demanded from their business partners and suppliers, the continued persistent use of an item like this is totally incompatible. More than that, it seems to me beyond incoherent, unviable. After all, the country has superior technology, with better performance and non-polluting available.

Here, the Ecopost emerges as a possible solution. Made of inert material, it does not have any type of intoxicating element for handling. Recycled and recyclable, it has multiple life cycles, lasting for more than 20 years in its installation location. And of course, in the event of an impact, it deforms predictably, much safer, without releasing its components”, highlighted.

Regarding road safety, one cannot fall into the temptation of immediacy, of the cheapest, in the case of using wood, but rather in what is economically viable and safe.

The wood/recyclable product disruption should be taken seriously by highway engineers and managers and not simply by the monetary value of the product without the proper comparisons of price composition, life cycle, reverse logistics, etc. A complete study of the services and technologies added to the product to be installed must be carried out since, after all, on a road classified as a “Forgiving Highway,” we must always think about the user in the event of an accident.

The use of wooden supports is adding a dangerous item for the user, elevating the highway to the classification of a “Highway That Can Kill,” concluded.