Officials may be eying taller guardrails on highways down the road.

A new study by the University of Nebraska–Lincoln housed Midwest Road Safety Facility (MwRSF) shows raising the bar a few inches could pave the way for safer driving, and less costly road maintenance.

"Guardrails are one of the most popular and frequently used barriers across the country protecting drivers," the study’s lead researcher Dr. Mojdeh A. Pajouh said.

The MwRSF determined the maximum acceptable height for guardrails to be 31 inches – also referred to as the Midwest Guardrail System (MGS) in the 2000’s. That height has been used by most state transportation agencies, including Nebraska’s Department of Transportation, ever since.

The 31 inch height is still safe, but as vehicles get bigger and roads need to be repaved, that height may not be the best option. Instead, researchers with MwRSF are looking into 36 inch guardrails in the future.

“Right now our guardrails that are there are safe, even at the lower height and certainly at the 31 inch height,” MwRSF Director Ron Faller said. “We don't need to go and replace those systems, this is maybe fore future construction needs.”

Pavement overlay is a big concern. Adding asphalt on top of a surface can compromise safety.

“During the lifetime of guardrails, they're going to have some pavement overlay,” Pajouh said. “That lowers the rails height, so they have to repair or replace the guardrail during the lifetime of the guardrail.”

"We really have the opportunity to not have to go through and really grind down and mill down our highways if this truly becomes implemented," Faller said.

The study focused on how compact cars come into contact with the roadside barriers.

Researchers found the difference between life and death is a matter of an inch.

“The interesting part of that was the simulation showing that [the] 36 inch tall can safely redirect a small car and [the] 37 inch, just by one inch increase in the rail, it was a failure,” Pajouh said.

The next step will be to crash test the 36 inch rails versus a pickup truck.

That process will come as soon as the study gets the funding, which comes from Nebraska and 15 other states.

With a successful crash test there, the MwRSF can recommend that states start using the taller rails.

The Nebraska Department of Transportation is aware of the discovery.

They said it's something they have an eye on, but they're waiting to see the full results to determine if and when taller rails will be implemented.