After the shocking photos of a freak car accident involving a Montana guard rail were splashed all over the Internet, drivers across the country began to question the safety of their state's guard rail systems. The accident took place when a driver dozed off behind the wheel and hit the front end of the rail head on. The rail cut through the passenger-side headlight and impaled the driver's SUV, which stopped with 25 feet of rail extending out the vehicle's back side. Although the driver miraculously escaped with no injuries, law enforcement said that if there had been a passenger in the vehicle, he most likely would have been killed.
The Montana crash would not have occurred in the manner that it did if the end of the guard rail had been buried, instead of standing vertically, as many in New Jersey do. After state residents voiced their concern about the potential for similar accidents on local freeways and highways, the New Jersey Department of Transportation responded, stating that buried guard rails are not always the safest option, but when they are, the NJ DOT uses them.
According to NJ DOT spokesman Joseph Dee, New Jersey uses buried guard rails, "but not in all situations." He said if the front end of a rail is buried, the first several feet of the rail slope upward to reach the appropriate height, which may make a buried rail more dangerous. "If a car drove up the incline on top of the rail, it would surely overturn as it moved higher, causing serious injury," he said.
Dee said that guard rails increase motorist safety, "on embankments that slope upward, since the front end of the rail can be installed near the top, where it's unlikely to get in the way of cars."
Source: NorthJersey.com, "Are N.J. guard rails safe?", John Cichowski, 15 December 2010