Controversial guardrail system passes crash tests

(WPRI) —  Federal investigators have given a potentially dangerous guardrail system passing grades in all eight crash tests. But the findings by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) only added fuel to the debate over this guardrail system.

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is speaking out about the latest crash tests results, specifically, whether the testing itself was flawed.

For the past few months the Federal Highway Administration conducted a series of crash tests and recently concluded the guardrail end terminals passed.  Target 12 has been reporting on Trinity ET Plus end terminals that are the subject of dozens of pending lawsuits, blaming them for numerous deaths and serious injuries.  The guardrails are suspected of jamming, causing the guardrail to spear into the passenger compartment.

All eyes were focused on the eight and final test, conducted on January 27. A 1998 Geo Metro traveling a little less than 60 miles an hour hit the ET-Plus end terminal causing a portion of the guardrail to bend, striking the driver’s side door.  According to Trinity Industries and the FHWA, neither believed the damage was enough to cause serious injuries.

In a letter to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, Trinity said it was aware of the criticism of the eight crash test.  In response the company said, “Any suggestion that the car is not expected to spin or rotate in this test is incorrect.  Impacting the head of the end-terminal at an offset is expected to create this spin or yaw in the vehicle.  It is not the result of ‘throat lock’ or ‘jamming’ inside the ET Plus extruder head.”

Trinity goes on to defend the damage by saying, “some exterior deformation causing intrusion into the occupant compartment…is allowed…”  and “no part of the guardrail entered into the passenger compartment.”

But Sean Kane, a top national safety research consultant says this is “false” and points to the video and pictures of the eight test released by the FHWA.

“There are holes in the door, holes in the dummy, how much penetration does there have to be?  What they’re trying to get you to believe is, don’t believe what you see,” Kane said. “When we look at this testing, the testing replicates what we’re seeing in the real world.  But for shear inches or couple of degrees of angles here and there it doesn’t fully penetrate the car and take the dummy’s legs off.  Does that mean this guardrail performed as intended?  Absolutely not. It locked up, it flipped to the side, and it penetrated into the side of the car. The FHWA and Trinity are defending it saying, well, it didn’t penetrate enough to cause a serious injury, so therefore it’s all ok?”

There is more criticism over how the crash tests were conducted.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut says, “The FHWA has given the ET-Plus a passing grade after allowing the manufacturer to conduct sham tests rife with flaws.”

Blumental along with Rhode Island U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse are now calling for a full investigation by the General Accounting Office.

“Recent reports raise serious questions about whether there has been proper federal oversight of taxpayer-funded guardrails, and whether additional steps need to be taken to keep drivers safe. By asking the government’s watchdog agency to examine these questions, I hope we can get to the bottom of this issue and ensure that we are doing everything we can to make our roadways safe.”  – Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse

Trinity says that it’s ET-Plus system has been “successfully crash tested more times than any product of its kind.”

The FHWA says it will continue to analyze the data to determine whether further testing is needed.

Target 12 contacted the Rhode Island Department of Transportation about the testing, which released the following statement.

“We continue to monitor all testing being performed and will continue to confer with FHWA, AASHTO, and other partners on this matter.  As stated previously, we continually monitor these end treatments in Rhode Island, as we do all devices and equipment along our roadways, and do not have any data to suggest that they are posing a safety hazard to the motoring public.”


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