October 15, 2014 — The New York Times reports that several states are banning or at least reconsidering approval of a highway guardrail that could potentially impale drivers.
On September 24, safety officials in Missouri banned further installation of the ET-Plus guardrail end-caps. Nevada and Massachusetts also banned the device in January.
Next week, the first federal trial involving the ET-Plus guardrail end-cap, manufactured by Trinity Industries, is scheduled to begin in Marshall, Texas.
Safety problems were discovered after a patent dispute. In 2012, Trinity was hit with a lawsuit alleging that they quietly changed the design of the ET-Plus sometime in 2005 to save money on materials. The ET-Plus is supposed to absorb the impact of an oncoming car, flatten the guardrail into a ribbon, and deflect it away from the oncoming car through a feeder chute.
The lawsuit alleges that the dimensions of the feeder chute were reduced, which makes the guardrail more likely to get locked up inside the end-cap. This can turn the guardrail into a spear the impales oncoming cars and occupants. Lawsuits blame the guardrails on five deaths, and many more injuries, in at least 14 accidents nationwide.
The Times reviewed internal communications at the Federal Highway Administration. Documents show that Nicholas Artimovich, a senior engineer charged with examining the guardrails, expressed concerns about the safety of the ET-Plus and said it was “hard to ignore the fatal results.” However, after meeting privately with Trinity and being assured the guardrails were safe, he signed off on their continued use for the next two years.
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