“What happens when a bus full of passengers crashes into a barrier on the road? Nothing.” That “nothing” is still today a dream. But every day, every technological advance, every test, every prototype, brings us closer to the day it will be a reality. That “nothing” is the goal pursued by the professionals at Gonvarri Road Steel every minute they are at work.
The Gonvarri group began to engage in the issue of road safety twenty-five years ago; at first, in a simple, straightforward way, manufacturing metal safety barriers at a factory in Asturias. Two and a half decades later, we can say that this modest industrial adventure has now become Road Steel. A concept that means much more than the brand that encompasses all the group’s activities in the field of road safety; it means, above all, our concern and our enthusiasm for making all roadsides ever safer. This is the change of philosophy Road Steel implies: we have gone from making products to selling road safety, effective solutions. The goal: ever fewer accidents and casualties (deaths or serious injuries) on our roads.
We all know that traffic accidents are the second cause of death in the world, and among these accidents, 1 in 3 are produced by a vehicle leaving the road (an out of control vehicle crashes into an obstacle, falls down a drop or invades an adjacent lane, with consequences in terms of human and material damage that are often fatal). And while it is true that the numbers of fatalities have declined in recent years, there is still much work to be done, regarding vehicles, regarding the mentality of drivers and, of course, regarding roads.
And what is our mission in this important work? Innovation. To create and develop groundbreaking products, ones that are revolutionary in the market for road safety.
Over the course of these years, therefore, we at Gonvarri have gone from manufacturing steel elements, to proposing and developing solutions to road safety. Throughout the entire process, from start to finish. The analysis of the problem, the identification and evaluation of all risk areas we face on the road, which, as drivers, we almost never consider, but which are there and present a serious problem the day our car happens to leave the road. Of course, there is also the question of road conditions; and sometimes we even participate in the design of the road itself and its containment systems, a phase in which our contribution can be very important. This doesn’t necessarily include the implantation of a vehicle containment system, which is a measure of last resort; no, the first thing we ask ourselves is how to avoid the problem, how to deactivate that area of risk or danger. The best barrier is unquestionably one that is not necessary.
In this sense, our vocation, our mission, is not only to protect against dangerous elements, but to go further: to change the nature of those objects so that they are no longer hazardous.
At present, for example, we are developing streetlamps that do not pose a danger in case of collision, either for the vehicle itself or for third parties. A streetlamp made of flexible material that absorbs the impact almost entirely, which doesn’t break up or fall on the car or on the road, where it might cause added danger.
Given that our mission is very clear, the next question we ask ourselves at Hiasa is: where do we want to go now? Of course, we want to keep innovating, developing revolutionary products that contribute to making our roads and urban streets safer, less dangerous, less lethal. But we also want to reach a little further in the issue of road safety, to transmit a series of values to society through awareness-raising campaigns such as Emotional Driving. In Spain and in all the countries where we operate. We don’t want to be only manufacturers, but also actors committed to safety and prevention.
Society clamors for new safety measures. Drivers, experts, administrations, common sense … For years now, Road Steel has been offering answers and solutions to this demand, following a working strategy that seeks innovation and leadership in its sector. And not only in Spain, but also in Colombia, Turkey and soon in the United States, we export Spanish innovation to many countries. Today, we are a leading company in innovation.
And within this service to society, this commitment to road safety and the lives of people, we at Road Steel are especially proud of our protection systems for motorcyclists. It’s not an exaggeration to say that our group has been an essential player in the great development that has occurred in Spain over the last ten years; a country which had never been a pioneer in this area and which is now technologically at the forefront worldwide. We have worked hard and well. And motorcyclist associations themselves have recognized this.
Of all vehicle users, motorcyclists are the most vulnerable to potential collisions on the road. According to the DGT, the risk of death in a motorcycle accident is 17 times higher than in a car accident. By improving the grip of the road and signaling, as well as through greater control of speed, fatal and serious accidents can be reduced in these road sections; and especially through containment systems, replacing old guardrails, which do not protect against impacts (and sometimes even make them worse) with new, more efficient guardrails, able to protect the rider from a direct hit against posts and also from the dangers that can be located on the other side of the rail (obstacles, rocks, cliffs, the opposite lane, etc.).
In the same spirit, our professionals have been researching, innovating and developing new solutions that help save lives on the road. Metallic safety barriers, metal bridge railings, aesthetic barriers of wood and steel, impact absorbers, terminal barriers and protection systems for motorcyclists are the result of these investigations and this spirit.
Our greatest satisfaction, well above tons produced or profit margins, is the large number of amputations and deaths that have been prevented through this protection system. A system that motorcyclists themselves have openly supported and still demand today for the thousands of kilometers of roads in Spain that still maintain the old guardrails.
Many of us still remember Andrés Pérez Rubio, who was Champion of Spain in the 500cc category in 1982 and 1985. One morning in December of 1993, he had a serious accident on his way to the Jarama racetrack, where he taught motorcycle racing. He lost both arms in the impact against the guardrail. When protests by motorcyclists began in 2002 against the old guardrails, Andrés was one of the representatives of the Spanish Motorcycling Federation who sat at the negotiating table. Andrés made it very clear to everyone that he wasn’t against safety barriers, which he considered necessary; on the contrary, he was a great defender of the cause, and of our proposals, because the only thing he wanted was for those barriers to be safer for motorcyclists. That was exactly what we intended at Road Steel and what we have been doing ever since. So that when a rider falls, he or she isn’t abandoned – and condemned – to their fate.
And not only for the sake of motorcyclists (who represent only 8% of the volume of traffic in Spain), but for all on-road vehicles: light and heavy ones, goods transport, public transport… Our philosophy is that different users of the roads shouldn’t have to compete for their safety, which is why we design systems that are efficient for all types of vehicles, without prioritizing one over another. The important thing is to help develop ever-safer roadsides. To collaborate on making roads safer for everyone. To save human lives.
But we don’t want to be just a manufacturer, but also to become a benchmark in road safety; we want to make awareness-raising campaigns that sensitize society; to undertake continuous and close-at-hand work that reaches everyone, that involves everyone, through Emotional Driving or in collaboration with any association or initiative that shares our commitment and our values.
For our employees, it is a double satisfaction to know that they form part of a leading global company; but, above all, that they are helping us all feel safer on the road. Above and beyond the bottom line, what really matters is that the result of their work saves lives. These are the values that have always guided this company and are what make us all feel proud of our work. Continuous improvement, innovative spirit, international vocation, commitment to society and the certainty that the ultimate goal that drives us, our great motivation, is to contribute to the safety of people on the roads.
We have done much, our contribution is there, but the best is yet to come and we are working every day to achieve it. It is our mission, our vocation and our daily work.