Breakdown highlights a barrier problem

CONCERNS about VicRoads’ placement of flexible barriers beside the Princes Highway were highlighted on Thursday evening.

A mechanical problem forced a school bus returning students to Stratford to pull over to the side of the Princes Highway, just metres past the flexible wire rope barrier north of the Montgomery Rd intersection.

The driver of the Little’s Gippsland Coach’s bus was able to safely transfer his passengers to a following bus, because he pulled over onto the grass verge, an extra metre from the edge of the bitumen.

The absence of a roadside barrier in that location meant the following bus was also able to pull off the highway to safely take onboard the students.

Had the breakdown occurred 200 metres earlier, the situation would have been far riskier for all concerned.

Coach company owner Grant Ridgeway told the Gippsland Times the safety of passengers was always the first priority, and being able to move further off the road in this case was an advantage.

“On the odd occasion there is a breakdown, it is always the safety of the passengers first, then the driver — the vehicle is our last concern,” he said.

The safety of the mechanic who repaired the vehicle would also have been compromised if the bus had been stuck beside the barrier.

Mr Ridgeway said buses were usually about 2.5 metres wide, meaning the space between the barrier and the coach would have been insufficient for a person to work in.

“Had it (the breakdown) been on the wire barrier, it would have been hard to safely transfer the passengers,” he said.

Mr Ridgeway suggested the barriers needed to be placed further back from the edge of the road surface if they were to be erected on the highway, arguing for a minimum of 3.5m clearance.

“They are not a good idea where they are,” he said.

“They (the barriers) are a ‘hassle’, especially where there is that middle of the road barrier.

“A car or other vehicle travelling in the same direction would usually be able to move across to give a safety margin, but with the barriers there’s nowhere to go.”

The state government, Transport Accident Commission and VicRoads have continued to defend the barriers, insisting they will save lives.

In a letter to the editor in Tuesday’s Gippsland Times, TAC chief executive Joe Calafiore said in the Gippsland region, 21 of the 28 lives lost on the road last year resulted from run-off road crashes.

“Close to 2000 kilometres of these barriers are being rolled out across the state, both on the main roads such as the Princes Highway, which carry the most traffic, but also on smaller roads where the data shows the most accidents are happening,” he wrote.

“… I know my colleagues at VicRoads are working closely with the State Emergency Service, Country Fire Authority and the broader community to make sure that the reason for the barrier roll-out is understood by local communities.

“With more than 1700 hits on flexible safety barriers across Victoria recorded in 2017, there are a lot of people who walked away from accidents last year, avoiding tragic outcomes.”