Guardrail Installation Banned in Several States
We recently discussed a study done by the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Engineering, which revealed that the modern guardrails being used in Missouri and Ohio were much more dangerous and deadly than previous versions, though those also lead to numerous injuries and fatalities.
Missouri transportation officials finally decided that certain highway guardrails have caused enough damage and ceased the use of the ET-Plus guardrail. They have decided to ban and further installation of the rail heads designed for this guardrail. They cited numerous reasons, including the fact that the devices had simply not been performing as designed and intended. Instead of protecting drivers, the guardrails were folding in half and essentially becoming large metal spears that caused serious damage to vehicles, passengers, and drivers.
Numerous lawsuits have been brought forward regarding five deaths and multiple injury cases caused by the potentially defective guardrails. Due to these safety concerns, Missouri joined with Nevada in banning any further installations of the rail heads. Massachusetts soon joined the other two states in banning the rails just a few days after.
Federal Highway Administration Denies Any Issue
While there have been countless accidents involving these guardrails and studies done that prove the correlation, the Federal Highway Administration claimed that the guardrails fully meet crash-test criteria. Trinity Industries is a Texas-based manufacturer that provides a majority of the guardrails nationwide. They also claim there is no problem, despite the many tragic accidents proving otherwise. Though the Federal Highway Administration has wavered at times, even saying that the fatal results are difficult to ignore, they continue say that they believe the guardrails are safe for use.
Many are comparing the Federal Highway Administration's lack of action and blind eye to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's lack of action regarding the multiple reports of faulty ignitions in GM cars, which resulted in at least 24 fatalities. Both cases are causing more and more scrutiny of these organizations that are meant to be protecting the individuals on the road, not the manufacturers and companies.
Saving Costs vs. Saving Lives
At the center of the debate is one question: what caused the recent spike in deaths? While guardrails have caused issues and accidents in the past, the designs have always been improving and cutting down on those numbers. However, the ET-Plus guardrail seems to be the contradiction to this. Why has the number of injuries increased by 186% since their newest modifications in 2005? Many believe that Trinity Industries made a new design that cut back on costs, as well as safety features.
The manufacturer reduced the width of the steel channel behind the rail head from five inches to four, saving them a serious amount of supplies and money. Though this may seem minor, it creates a serious issue. Previously, the rail head would slide along the rail and help it curl out of the way of the vehicle. Now, the smaller size is more prone to become jammed, creating a spear like piece of metal which easily pierces a vehicle and any individual in its way.
Trinity failed to disclose these modifications with the Federal Highway Administration as it was required to. Not only that, but for the last seven years, tens of thousands of these dangerous and defective-prone rail heads have been installed across the nation. Though the Federal Highway Administration found out about the previously undisclosed changes in 2012, they have been hesitant to take any action against the manufacture, insisting that they simply did not have enough evidence to prove the changes were to blame for more accidents.
Just this month, a safety administrator at the Federal Highway Administration has issued a memorandum requesting that each state transportation department provide any information they have on the performance of the ET-Plus. It seems that the FHWA may finally be taking action that many states have already decided to take on their own.