Controversial ET Plus Guardrail Meets Feds Crash Test Criteria

More than 40 states, including California, have banned future installation of the ET-Plus guardrail system. It is estimated there are 200,000 of the guardrail end terminals on roadways across the country.

Guardrails in Arlington
NBC 5 News

A controversial guardrail lining highways in California and across the country, has met all crash test criteria, a U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration official said.

The ET-Plus, manufactured by Trinity Industries, was retested earlier this year after the FHWA ordered the Dallas-based company to conduct new crash tests for the highway safety product. The demand for new testing came in October, after a jury in a federal whistleblower case found the company was liable for defrauding the federal government.

FHWA outlined the results of four crash tests conducted by Southwest Research Institute on Trinity Industries’ ET-Plus guardrail end terminal in a conference call with the media Friday.

Click here to see the complete results of the testing and more information about the testing process.

FHWA is the agency responsible for certifying which road safety products are eligible for federal reimbursement and states look to the agency for which products are approved for use on their highways.

Trinity, a highway manufacturing heavyweight, has been accused in lawsuits and complaints across the country for making a change to a widely used version of its guardrail end terminals, the ET-Plus.

The changes, according to the lawsuits, cause the metal railing of the guardrail to jam up inside the terminal chute, instead of passing through the chute and pigtailing out the side, away from the vehicle. The metal then sometimes pierces through a vehicle like a spear, cutting through cars and sometimes the people inside.

Click here for more about the controversy surrounding the ET-Plus.

Tony Furst, FHWA Associate Administrator for Safety pointed out two specific anomalies in the testing. According to the test results:

  • In the angle test of the pickup truck, speeds were below the average impact speeds for this kind of test by 2 mph. Furst said, experts came to the conclusion that is was unlikely any vehicle traveling 3 mph or higher would have impacted the safety of that crash test or had different results.
  • The last crash, involving the smaller car, showed impact from the guardrail into the vehicle. Furst said according to the testing criteria there “should be no penetration. If it does (penetrate) it fails.” The testing criteria also requires no serious injuries to be caused by the crash. FHWA with help from NHTSA determined the risk of serious injury from the impact into the driver side door, similar to what was seen in the last crash test, is 0.3%, Furst said.
  • Keith Cota, wtih the New Hampshire DOT described the last crash test involving the smaller car as “uniquely different.” He said it was “not surprising to see it react the way it did,” but was very supportive of the crash test.

In a letter to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and state DOT's Trinity President Gregory Mitchell said, "Let there be no doubt - the eighth crash test passed." 

According to Mitchell, it passed because, "the purpose of guardrail end-terminals is not to prevent damage to the outside of the car, but to reduce the risk of serious injury or death to the occupants inside the car." 

AASHTO represents all 50 state department of transportation agencies.

More than 40 states, including California, have banned future installation of the ET-Plus guardrail system. The company has also stopped selling the product pending the outcome of these retests.

Greg Nadeau, FHWA Deputy Administrator said the data from these tests “is going to be useful” for states to make any decisions about continuing to install these on roadways.

Nadeau would not say whether the department would recommend states continue to install the ET-Plus. He said the decision is up to each individual state DOT but the end terminal “remains eligible for federal funding.”

It is estimated there are 200,000 of the guardrail end terminals on roadways across the country.

The California Department of Transportation is in the process of taking a complete inventory of how many units are on state roadways, according to Matt Rocco, Caltrans Public Affairs Chief.

Some lawmakers are calling for new crash tests of a controversial guardrail after claiming the tests were “flawed.”

Weeks after a series of crash tests were completed on the guardrail-end terminals a document filed in federal court in Texas claims the guardrails used in the testing process could have different dimensions than the ones that line the nation’s roadways.

In a review by the FHWA Nadeau said the devices tested are “representative of what is on the roadways. Measurements (of the devices) do not support there is a second version on roadways.”

Senator Richard Blumental and Senator Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. wrote three letters to the head of the Federal Highway Administration expressing their “grave” concerns about what they called “flaws” in the testing process.

“These tests are in fact a sham,” said Sen. Blumental.

Nadeau and Furst both outlined an on-going plan to continue to study the crashes and data surrounding the ET-Plus end terminal. Part of the plan includes reviewing real-world crash data. Some of results from the studies could be done as early as this summer.

The retesting was conducted by the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Rocco said, Caltrans pulled eight ET-Plus units from its warehouse in Sacramento to be used for the testing.

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