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Fatal crash calls cable guardrail effectiveness into question
ALLEGAN COUNTY, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Newschannel 3 is taking a closer look at cable barriers after a deadly crash on a West Michigan highway.
State Police say 38-year-old Alan Chase was driving south on I-196 just before 6:00 a.m. Wednesday when his semi crossed the median in Cassco Township, went through the cable barrier, and slammed head-on into another semi.
Chase died, but the couple in the other truck was not hurt.
State Police are still working to determine what led to the crash.
The Michigan Department of Transportation has been strategically placing cable guardrails around the state for four years now.
M-DOT insists that the cables have been well worth the expense, and the headaches they can cause in minor crashes.
The department also adds that even though it appears the cables failed in Wednesday morning's fatal crash, they worked exactly as intended.
"It's a trade-off for sure," admitted Nick Schirippa, with M-DOT.
"Sure we've seen a higher rate of property damage crashes, but I think most people, most reasonable people, would rather pay to replace their car than to bury their grandmother, their father, their sister, their neighbor," he said.
A Newschannel 3 crew came across a crash a few weeks ago on southbound US-131 in Kent County.
Witnesses say the driver was serving back and forth until he made a sharp turn from the right-hand shoulder.
Tire tracks show he was heading straight into bumper-to-bumper traffic in the northbound lanes.
The cables grabbed the car, the driver lived, and northbound traffic was spared.
Unfortunately, the cables did not deliver the same results Wednesday morning, for a couple of reasons.
"Cable guardrail isn't necessarily rated to stop or be effective with fully loaded tractor-trailers, straight trucks, box trucks," Schirippa said. "It's like going fishing for 20 pound salmon with 4 pound test. It may work once in awhile, but if it doesn't, it shouldn't be a surprise."
"The other piece of this is the angle he hit," Schirippa continued. "He hit it going up a slope."
Crash studies indicated the cable would be best utilized on the northbound side of that particular stretch of I-196.
Next year, M-DOT will put out a study on the effectiveness of the guard cables over the first 5 years of their existence.
Schirippa says he believes the data will make it clear how effective the cables can be.