Critics claim re-testing of guardrails won’t go far enough

(WISH Photo/Bennett Haeberle)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Criticism continues to mount over thousands of guardrails suspected of malfunctioning and causing serious injuries.

This week, the Federal Highway Administration ordered additional crash tests for the ET-plus guardrail end treatments. The Texas-based manufacturer, Trinity Industries, told I-Team 8 in a statement that it would complete the tests “as soon as possible.”

A series of eight crash tests will be performed in the coming weeks in an effort to test the product’s safety effectiveness.

At issue is a reduction in width to a portion of the guardrail head. Trinity changed the width from five inches to four around 2005, but failed to notify federal regulators, FHWA acting administrator Gregory Nadeau told reporters this week. Several lawsuits allege that the design change causes the guardrail to malfunction – allowing the metal guardrails to cut through vehicles.

Attorneys for crash victims and safety advocates tell I-Team 8 the proposed re-testing methods won’t go far enough.

“Based on the studies that we did – and the concerns of the feds – these new systems that were changed in 2005 are performing at a level that is not as safe as the predecessor,” said Sean Kane with the watchdog group, The Safety Institute, which collaborated with researchers at the University of Alabama-Birmingham to examine guardrail crash data from Missouri and Ohio.

Kane blamed the FHWA for a “lack of leadership,” claiming federal regulators have known for years about the product’s changes.

“They haven’t solved it. And now they’re doing a “CYA” by (approving) a request for Trinity that they know (Trinity) can pass and then they can put their rubber stamp on it again,” Kane said.

Responding to that criticism, FHWA spokesman Doug Hecox told I-Team 8: “The upcoming crash tests are just one part of a broad range of activities FHWA is undertaking to comprehensively evaluate the performance of the ET-Plus.  We are aggressively pursuing all sources of existing data on the in-service performance of the device to identify any apparent issues or vulnerability in performance.”

Jay Traylor, a North Carolina man who lost both his legs during a crash involving an ET-Plus guardrail in February, told I-Team 8 he’d like to see federal regulators require a low impact crash test.

Traylor, speaking to I-Team 8 via Skype from North Carolina, also recalled the night of the crash. Traylor said he had started to “nod off” behind the wheel and told himself he needed to pull over at the next exit.

“Next thing I knew, I opened my eyes and the guardrail was coming through the floor panel,” he told I-Team 8. “When everything came to stop and rest, I pulled my right leg up and I was missing everything below the knee. I said ‘well, that isn’t good.’ So I called 911 first before I started on my tourniquet.”

Traylor has since recovered and now walks with the aid of prosthetic legs. He keeps a memento he says illustrates the force of the crash: his wallet.

“(The guardrail) took this wallet and my entire pocket, the wallet, the pocket, everything and pushed it through the front seat, through the back seat and threw it 20 feet out the back window.”

Traylor says he notices the guardrails now more than ever as he travels down highways and interstates.

“I’m asking myself ‘Is that one? Is that one?'” he said.

At least 30 states have banned the ET-guardrails so far. Indiana is not among them. INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said five INDOT employees have been assigned to review crash data and the state’s inventory in an effort to aid the FHWA in its investigation into the guardrails.

So far, Wingfield said researchers have not found in evidence of malfunctions in Indiana.

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