WPI Professor Beats the High Cost of Crash Tests

Contact: WPI Media Relations, 508-831-5616

WORCESTER, Mass. - One of the difficulties in developing safer guardrails, lampposts and other roadside equipment is the high cost of performing full-scale crash tests.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is encouraging the use of new high-powered analysis methods adapted from both the weapons and the automobile design industries to help reduce the cost of testing. Some full-scale crash tests will always be required to demonstrate that so-called "roadside hardware" works correctly. But today, computer analysis programs can be used to evaluate alternative designs more quickly and at less cost. This helps reduce the number of crash tests while enhancing designers' understanding of how roadside hardware works.

Dr. Malcolm Ray, an associate professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and Dr. Richard McGinnis, a professor at Bucknell University, are working with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to improve the performance of one common guardrail used throughout the Northeast.

After developing a model of the guardrail, the WPI research team has performed a series of nearly 20 simulations to explore the performance of the system under crash conditions. From those findings, Ray and McGinnis have developed some promising ideas that should make the guardrail work better. Now they are looking at how well their new design works using further computer simulations. If the results continue to show promise, they expect to run a full-scale crash test in the fall to confirm their analysis results.

"The cost of performing this research using a combination of computer simulation and full-scale crash testing is expected to be one tenth the cost of using crash testing alone," Ray said.