PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Guardrails are meant to protect you in a car crash, but we’ve uncovered allegations of serious safety concerns about a certain type on our roads.
These guardrails are used across the country, including Rhode Island. Target 12 Consumer Investigator Susan Hogan spent weeks pouring through court cases and federal documents.
According to vehicle safety experts, this guardrail in question is designed to ride down the energy of a crash as you impact it and literally “roll” away from your car and slow it down. But some say a design change to these guardrail end terminals could be having a major effect on how they perform according to Sean Kane, a vehicle safety expert.
“It’s failing in a way that it’s causing the guardrail to spear into the vehicle literally and impact the occupant,” Kane said.
Target 12 learned a number of lawsuits have been filed against the maker of these guardrails, Trinity Industries, a Dallas, TX-based company. According to court documents, the type of guardrail involved is called the ET-PLUS. The complaints claim the design change has led to deaths and serious injuries.
Steven Lawrence, an attorney representing several victims says “you are required to inform the federal government when you make changes and give them all the details of those changes, as well as make any tests of those changes that the government requires.
Lawrence says Trinity “skipped that whole process.”
Target 12 followed up with the Federal Highway Administration. In a statement they tell us, “While Trinity informed FHWA they had inadvertently omitted the 4 inch feeder channel design details, the device in question met appropriate crash testing criteria.”
But we obtained an email written by an engineer with the Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Safety. The email was obtained through a Freedom of Information Request. The engineer writes, “…there does seem to be a valid question over the field performance of the current ET-Plus compared to earlier version.”
“How can they be having field performance problems and yet meet their standard and not have a concern to be looking at these end terminals?” Kane asked. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
We found other groups expressing concerns over these guardrails. Target 12 uncovered a letter from December 2012 from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. The Association urged Federal officials to “review the crash acceptance of the ET-Plus end terminal and (ensure) that it fully documents the modified barrier system for crash worthiness.” It’s important to point out that the Association’s President at the time the letter was written was Michael Lewis, the Director of Rhode Island’s Department of Transportation. We put in several requests for an interview with Lewis, however he declined.
Instead, RIDOT issued a statement – one that sends a much different message than the letter written by the group Lewis once oversaw. “We do not have any data to suggest that the ET-Plus end treatment, as installed, is posing a safety hazard to the motoring public. This end treatment is an approved product per the Federal Highway Administration and is in use in Rhode Island.”
In July, a federal lawsuit will head to trial involving a complainant who brought the potential danger of these guardrails to the federal government. Trinity says it intends to defend itself against these allegations.