By Tony Lopez

WEST SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — A Dodge Ram truck crashed into a guardrail, just as Caltrans engineers planned.

At a cost of $250,000, the crash at this West Sacramento test track would be an expensive ride. But it’s a necessary one for safety.

Caltrans engineers have been taking a good, hard look at existing bridge rails, realizing they need to upgrade to save lives and protect their work crews.

They found that out the hard way when an out of control driver bounced off a median rail, came across three lanes of traffic, and slammed into Caltrans worker Mark Balsi. He lost a leg in the accident, but he helped Caltrans gain a new footing with an innovation called the Balsi Beam.

The beam works as a guardrail attached to a truck. It protects workers from wayward cars, like the one that injured Balsi.

Like the bridge rail idea, the Balsi Beam had to face the crash course. Now there are five Balsi Beams in use throughout the state.

California has the only state department in the country with its own crash-test unit. Caltrans has been testing nearly everything we see on our roads and highways since the 1950s.

After months of work behind the scenes—from research on the road to simulations on the computer—thousands of hours of manpower boil down to one brief moment of impact.

The truck was aimed for the bridge at a maximum speed of 62 miles per hour. A change in wind speed or an obstacle suddenly entering the test road would kill the test.

Combined with CBS13’s equipment, more than a dozen cameras captured every angle of the crash. Wires on the pavement and in the truck captured data sent to a computer for later analysis.

From the naked eye, the test looked like it went well. The vehicle didn’t roll, the colored tires hit where Caltrans testers were shooting for, and most importantly, the crash looked survivable.

From here, every color, every curve, and every dent of the test vehicle will be analyzed to verify the test was successful.

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