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50. Yellow Barrels - Nifty 50

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Yellow barrels, those round, plastic devices usually seen at exit ramps on highways, freeways and tollways across the country, absorb energy and cushion the impact of crashes, save lives, lessen serious injuries and minimize property damage.

Formally called "highway impact attenuation devices," the yellow barrels, which are filled with sand, are the product of multiagency, federal government support, including $200,000 in NSF funding.

NSF grantees at Vanderbilt University conducted research into energy dissipation and into large deformation of tubular (barrel) structural systems. Then the Connecticut Department of Transportation added its research, including design criteria and hardware for energy absorption and dissipation, as well as results from the direct crashing of vehicles.

Along with helping to saves lives, the yellow barrels are credited with saving an estimated $400 million annually in property damage and medical expenses.

Original publication date: April 2000

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