Thailand, home to Asia’s deadliest roads, may have found a way to make its highways safer using rubber while helping the economy in the process. Thailand will install flexible rubber road barriers on Thailand’s deadly roads nationwide.
A plunge in demand from global automakers because of the pandemic has driven down the price of rubber. Millions of growers and tappers in Thailand, the world’s biggest natural rubber producer, are being squeezed by the need for fewer tires and car parts.
The government, farmers and entrepreneurs have tried different ways to offset slack demand. More of the material is being used in cosmetics, for example, while some roads have been paved with compounds made of rubber.
The latest idea revolves around a new road-safety program, which aims to turn one million tonnes of rubber into 12,282 kilometres of fender barriers and 1,063,651 flexible guide posts. The 85-billion-baht plan will not only absorb about a quarter of the annual harvest, it could also save lives.
Rubber on Thailand’s deadly highways
“Rubber’s elasticity helps lessen crash impact to the point that fatal injuries can be avoided,” said Anat Hasap, director of the Railway Transportation System Testing Center at the Thailand Institute of Scientific and Technological Research. “On real roads, that means accidents won’t result in deaths.”
Tests show road barriers covered in a thick layer of rubber can reduce crash-impact on vehicles travelling at 90 to 100 kilometres per hour by as much as 80%, Anat said.
Thailand has Asia’s highest per-capita traffic fatality rate and the ninth-highest in the world. The World Health Organization, estimates that 22,500 people die annually from vehicle accidents in the country.
The current barrier plan will cover about 1% of the country’s road network and be coupled with installation of guide posts made from flexible rubber latex instead of concrete or other rigid materials. Switching to bendable poles will reduce deaths from motorcycle accidents, which account for one-third of road accidents but three-quarters of all fatalities, according to data from the Transport Ministry.
Thailand typically produces about a third of the world’s natural rubber; Malaysia and Indonesia are the next-largest growers. Matching rubber supply and demand is tricky partly because rubber production is dominated by small farms, which often tap trees even when prices are low to earn more income.