What’s the Deal with Guardrails? A Cricket Media History

We love to investigate Cricket Media traditions, from why kids send pictures of their pets for SPIDER Magazine to ‘adopt’ to MUSE Magazine’s legend of the hot pink bunnies. Today, we’re diving into another surprising phenomenon from our history: guardrails. Yes, guardrails. You heard us correctly. Those bits of metal and cement that keep cars from driving off the road. The September issue of ASK features an article called “Highway Guide to Guardrails,” showcasing the differences between different types of highway barriers and their advantages. But it’s not the first time we’ve published an article on that topic!

Origin of the Guardrail Fanatics

Way back in the October 1998 issue of MUSE Magazine, then-editor Diana Lutz suggested an article on guardrails. She said,

” When I suggested this article, my fellow editors thought the topic was too geeky even for Muse. But I was hooked. I found it fascinating that the design of a guardrail varied with the job it had to do. If you knew this, you could read a secret highway code everyone else missed.

In the end, we agreed to run the article with a humor piece making fun of it. Now, looking back after nine years, I consider “Crash!” a kind of touchstone for Muse-worthiness. If you can see that guardrails are interesting and laugh at yourself for fi nding guardrails interesting, then Muse is the magazine for you.”

Diana Lutz

Surprisingly, the resulting article, “Crash!” by David L. Wheeler, was a hit. They paired with a funny quiz that asks, “Are you guardrail crazy?” It includes true/false questions including such worrying scenarios as:

  • You hold up your pants with safety belts.
  • You’re so concerned about the safety of guardrails, that you’ve invented a guardrailrail to protect them, then a guardrailrailrail, then a…
  • You beg your parents to adopt a stretch of highway so that guardrails are officially part of your family.

Do you show any worrying signs of being a guardrail fanatic? Check out the full quiz here to find out.

Return of the Guardrails

Apparently, some MUSE readers must have truly been guardrail crazy, because October 1998 was only the start of guardrail-mania. In January 2007, MUSE published a special 10th anniversary issue featuring some of MUSE’s most iconic articles in its history. Topics included vegetarianism, the secret of the Damascus sword, an origami hot pink bunny craft, and… guardrails!

One fan named Haley even wrote into MUSE Mail later that year with an original poem about guardrails:

“Guardrails are like rubber bands

They sit there in the sands

But when a car comes falling

They never go off crawling

Or slink away down a hill

And make the car take a spill

Instead they forgive and bend,

Stopping the crashing trend

And preventing a nasty hospital bill.”

If nothing else, it’s definitely the most beautiful poem about guardrails we’ve ever heard!

Now, 22 years after guardrails first graced the pages of MUSE and 13 years after their triumphant return, guardrails are finally back on our pages– this time in ASK!

So, What’s the Deal with Guardrails Anyway?

What makes them so interesting? MUSE asked a genuine, non-ironic guardrail fanatic: civil engineering professor Richard McGinnis, who identifies guardrails the way that an avid birdwatcher identifies birds. In a pinch, Professor McGinnis can tell you what kind of guardrail you’re liking at, why it’s used, and how it would help keep drivers safe. He knows why a guardrail is used in a certain situation and how it would work to protect drivers.

For example, some guardrails are created with a ‘forgiving’ design that barely damages cars but may let them travel farther. Others are ‘unforgiving’ and stop a car right in its tracks, but cause more damage. Why would you sometimes want one versus the other? Maybe there’s a steep ditch off the road, or traffic going in an opposite direction. You’d probably want the ‘unforgiving’ guardrail that would keep drivers from an even more dangerous situation than a ruined car. Maybe there’s a meadow or a wide shoulder on the side of the road. A weaker guardrail that would cause less damage to passengers would be useful here.

Once you learn to spot a few styles of guardrail in the wild, we guarantee you won’t be able to stop doing it! And you can thank both MUSE and ASK for keeping guardrail-mania alive!

Learn to identify different kinds of guardrails in “Highway Guide to Guardrails” from ASK

Discover a genuine MUSE blast from the past in the article that started it all, “Crash!”