Why Do Bridges Fail—

by David W. Smith, Lect. in Civ. Engrg.; Univ. of Dundee, Dundee, Scotland,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1977, Vol. 47, Issue 11, Pg. 58-62

Document Type: Feature article


From the study of 143 bridge failures that occurred throughout the world from 1847 to 1975, it is found that there are nine categories of failure. The most frequent of these is failure due to flooding, because a single flooded river can destroy a whole series of bridges along its course. Other categories are brittle fracture, earthquake and wind failures, accidental destruction, falsework and steel box girder failures, and failures caused by corrosion and fatigue. For each category, one or more case histories is cited and discussed. It is concluded that bridges generally do not fail because of inaccurate stress-strain calculations. Sound design is achieved by the rational matching of safety factors to analytical techniques and erection procedures, and above all by wisdom and judgement.

Subject Headings: Failure analysis | Material failures | Structural failures | Bridge failures | Floods | Bridges | Case studies | Bridge design

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