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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 December, 2003, 09:01 GMT
Bendy lampposts may save lives
High-speed impacts with rigid metal posts often result in death
New lampposts that bend on impact have gone into use on Britain's roads in the hope of reducing the number of deaths from car accidents.

Rigid metal lampposts can prove fatal if hit by a car, as the vehicle buckles around the structure and comes to an abrupt halt.

But hitting a flexible lamppost will cause it to bend underneath the car, causing less damage.

"The material buckles because the material itself has one tenth of the stiffness of steel," Jerry Boyce of innovation firm Europrojects, which developed the material, told BBC World Service's Science In Action programme.

"In other words, it will deflect 10 times more than steel under a load situation."

Saving lives

The lampposts are made from a material created by weaving long, strong glass fibres into a polypropylene fabric.

The material has a strength matching that of metal, but is much more flexible.

Car crash
We've had four crashes already on the roadside involving our lighting columns, and I'm pleased to say no major injuries - including one crash, which was at 90 miles an hour
Jerry Boyce, Europrojects
The lampposts do not corrode, are environmentally-friendly, and are much safer.

"We tend to use steel as the product for our lighting columns," Mr Boyce explained.

"The reason why we got involved in composite lighting columns was we wanted to offer a product that was maintenance-free.

"That means we don't have to re-paint the product - it's self-coloured - a product that would last probably 40 years as opposed to 20 or 25 years, and a product which, if a vehicle hits it under impact or a crash situation, would actually deflect, buckle or give way to the vehicle.

"Hence we would save lives in an accident situation."

The stiffness of the material can also be changed to allow the lamppost to buckle in certain directions.

The hatch at the base of the post - designed to allow electricians access to the power supply - has been utilised so that it creates a "natural flaw" around which the post collapses.

To minimise any risk to passers-by from lampposts collapsing, two different kinds of post have been developed.

One is for the countryside, where it is highly unlikely to be near pedestrians, where the column actually breaks away totally.

The column designed for the city is hinged and buckles, so it does not fall away and break.

"The actual vehicle will ride up along the length of the column," Mr Boyce said.

"The likelihood would be that we will have at least slowed the vehicle down and not killed the occupants of the vehicle.

"At the same time, it does not allowed the vehicle itself to transgress into pedestrians."

Further uses

The lampposts have already been put into use on some roads in Britain, Mr Boyce added.

Wind farm, BBC
Wind turbine blades are also made out of the material
"We've had four crashes already on the roadside involving our lighting columns, and I'm pleased to say no major injuries - including one crash, which was at 90 miles an hour," he stated.

"Under normal circumstances if they'd hit the steel pole it would almost certainly have resulted in death."

The material has been put to many other uses too, including wind turbine blades, truck body panels and crash barriers.

A company in the south of England has also been using it to build high-speed rigid inflatable boats.

One further advantage is that the material is more environmentally-friendly than normal fibreglass, which uses liquid resins.

These resins contain a solvent which when processed is emitted into the atmosphere.

"At the end of its life - after 20 years of use - we can actually take the lighting columns, or any product made from this material, down, and re-extrude it, or re-injection mould it into another product," Mr Boyce said.

"In other words, it's recyclable."

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