Rocking Traffic Poles from Natural Rubber: An Accomplishment by a Chula Lecturer for Road Safety

Writer Maythaporn Trikijwattanakul

A lecturer from the Faculty of Science, Chulalongkorn University has developed rocking traffic poles made of natural rubber that is highly flexible, withstands, and reduces impact while also resuming its original form immediately upon being run over. They are now being tested with the hopes that they can soon replace plastic traffic poles.

Traffic poles — round, orange poles with white reflectors are important in regulating road traffic to ensure that drivers keep to their lanes and that the lanes are clearly visible at nighttime. Oftentimes, however, these plastic poles get run over, leaving the debris on the road that can be hazardous to drivers who have to avoid them.

This is a problem that has led Associate Professor Dr. Sirilux Poompradub, Department of Technical Chemistry, Faculty of Science, Chulalongkorn University to develop and produce the natural rubber traffic pole which is a result of the collaboration with the Office of Thailand Science Research and Innovation (TSRI) and the Siam United Rubber Co. Ltd.

“The traffic poles currently in use are mostly made of plastic, they are light and are easily damaged when they get hit by a vehicle. We have developed a rocking pole from natural rubber that is more pliant and can better withstand impact.”

Associate Professor Dr. Sirilux Poompradub

Natural rubber for the “rocking traffic pole”

According to Assoc. Prof. Dr. Sirilux, most of the traffic poles currently in use are made of plastic materials which are light and brittle. Even if we have poles made from other materials that are more durable such as polyurethane or thermoplastic polyurethane, they aren’t very popular due to the high costs. Natural rubber seems, therefore, to be the most appropriate material.

“Natural rubber is highly pliable and can resume its form as soon as it gets hit or run over by a vehicle. It can also absorb the impact of road accidents.”

Nevertheless, natural rubber also has its weak point in that when it is exposed to heat and sunlight for an extended period, cracks will appear. So, she experimented and adjusted the formula to address this problem.

“We spent a lot of time adjusting the chemical formula to develop a highly flexible rubber pole that resumes its original form when hit by a vehicle and most importantly, is resistant to our climate and UV rays.”

Traffic poles made from natural rubber

Test results of the rocking traffic pole

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Sirilux has designed a test to determine the rocking traffic pole’s durability by using a vehicle weighing 1 ton moving at the speed of 30, 50, and 80 kilometers per hour to hit a traffic pole repeatedly 90 times. Then, a vehicle weighing 5 tons is used at the speed of 10 kilometers per hour to hit the pole another 10 times.

“The results have been highly satisfactory. When the poles were hit and fell to the ground, they sprang back up after the car had driven past them, without any damage, or severe scratches to the vehicle. They can help increase road safety and reduce accidents.”

Currently, a pilot project to use these rocking traffic poles has been launched on Srirat and Rama VII expressways to test actual usage and to collect the results of the experiment as well.

A comparative experiment of plastic traffic poles (top)
and natural rubber poles (bottom)

Extended use of natural rubber for road safety

Aside from the “rocking traffic pole” Assoc. Prof. Dr. Sirilux also sees the potential of natural rubber extended to other products to assure drivers and pedestrians of their safety in the future. Some possibilities are barriers placed on the curves or narrow areas in parking structures since those made of natural rubber can help reduce the impact between the vehicle and the parking structure wall as well as avoid causing deep scratches to the cars.

“Thailand is a world leader in natural rubber production. The development and production of natural rubber devices for road safety can add value to our local products while helping those in the agriculture sector as well,” she added.

Those interested in the traffic poles from natural rubber may contact the Siam United Rubber Co. Ltd. or via Assoc. Prof. Dr. Sirilux Poompradub at the Department of Technical Chemistry, Faculty of Science, Chulalongkorn University at her email Sirilux.P@chula.ac.th.

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