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Expert Says Trinity ET-Plus Guardrail ‘Clearly Failed’ Recent Crash Test

Posted on February 20, 2015 by Kelly Wolford
Our Albany auto accident lawyers report on the recent Trinity ET-Plus Guardrail crash test.

In recent months, a series of auto crash tests have been conducted to determine whether safety risks are posed by the Trinity ET-Plus guardrail system.

As the New York Times reports, the eighth and last in the series of tests by the guardrail’s manufacturer, Texas-based Trinity Industries, Inc., has raised some eyebrows.

During the January 27, 2015 test in San Antonio, a 1998 Geo Metro was driven into the guardrail at 60 mph, according to the Times. The car then spun out, and the driver’s side door struck a piece of the guardrail, causing what “appeared to be substantial damage” to the door. The front of the car also received damage.

A guardrail expert from the University of Alabama at Birmingham told the Times that, based on his review of video footage of the test, the guardrail had “clearly failed,”  and the damage to the driver’s side door “indicated that the guardrail would have posed serious injury risk” to people inside the car.

With that said, the Times reports that the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) has not finished analyzing the tests’ results and may order more testing before it arrives at conclusions.

Test of Guardrails Have Been Controversial

The FHA ordered Trinity to conduct the tests after an October 2014 jury verdict in which Trinity was found guilty of fraud against the federal government.

The lawsuit in that case had been brought by a whistleblower who claimed that Trinity defrauded the federal government by failing to disclose a change the company made to the design of its ET-Plus guardrail system in 2005.

The change – a reduction of the guardrail’s metal end from five inches to four – caused the guardrails to become unsafe, the whisteblower alleged. This is because it would cause the guardrail to “jam up” and pierce a vehicle instead of peeling away as it should, as the Times describes.

However, the tests themselves have generated controversy.

The controversy surrounds the FHA’s decision to allow Trinity to test the guardrails according to standards that were in place almost 10 years ago. Critics are demanding the tests conform to new testing guidelines (updated in 2011). At the very least, critics want the tests modified to an angle of approximately five degrees.

In addition to the crash tests, FHA regulators and various state officials have demanded that Trinity provide information about the alleged modifications made to the guardrail’s end terminals. Individual states have also been asked to submit any information on crashes involving the controversial Trinity guardrails to the FHA for review.

Why Are ET-Plus Guardrail Tests Important?

As the Times reports, more than 30 states have banned further installation of the ET-Plus guardrails manufactured by Trinity Industries. New York officially banned further installation of the controversial guardrail system on October 27, 2014.

Whether the New York ban will be lifted and whether state officials will take the additional step of removing the guardrails from our state’s highways may ultimately depend on the results of the recently concluded crash tests.

Estimates from federal officials indicate that there could be as many as 200,000 of the guardrails currently in existence along U.S. highways. The FHA has already begun sending investigators into the field in various states to take measurements to see if any of the installed end terminal pieces had exit gaps which exceeded the manufacturer’s limits as this could have a significant effect on whether the guardrails will be likely to jam.

If you or someone you love has been seriously injured in an accident involving a guardrail system in Albany or Syracuse, you should contact an attorney without delay in order to ensure a thorough investigation of your case and a review of the legal options available to you.