Feds seek input on controversial guardrail system

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | 12/24/2014

The Federal Highway Administration has set out to form its own conclusions about a controversial guardrail system after a lawsuit verdict earlier this year went against the manufacturer. The administration is seeking all kinds of input and crash narratives that involve ET-Plus guardrail end terminals manufactured by Texas-based Trinity Industries Inc.

Nationwide, there are approximately 200,000 ET-Plus guardrail end terminals in use on federally funded highways according to an information request notice published in the Federal Register on Wednesday, Dec. 24.

The FHWA issued the notice as part of its ongoing tests and evaluation of the guardrail ends, which are supposed to absorb impact and reduce the severity of crashes based on manufacturing specs and product statements dating back to the early 2000s.

A jury in a whistleblower lawsuit filed against Trinity Industries in 2012 ruled in October that the manufacturer was “civilly liable” for altering the specs of the ET-Plus after it had signed contracts with the Federal Highway Administration. A change to a slightly smaller end-terminal dimension, according to the ruling, did not protect motorists as it should have. The plaintiff in the case claimed that the changed design resulted in approximately 20 deaths.

The jury in the case ordered Trinity Industries to pay $525 million in damages. Following the ruling, numerous states that installed the ET-Plus on state routes canceled orders and contracts.

The Federal Highway Administration is currently conducting crash tests and hopes to release results in early 2015. The administration has also asked state departments of transportation and other federal agencies to submit crash, injury and fatality data.

Additional evaluation will come in the form of input from the general public, according to the recent Federal Register notice.

FHWA seeks public comments on crashes involving the ET-Plus guardrail end terminals such as narratives, crash diagrams, locations, severity, speed and angle, weather conditions, type of roadway, condition of roadway shoulders, and condition of guardrails prior to impact.

“We will objectively and thoroughly assess all of this information to reach a data-driven conclusion about the real-world performance of the ET-Plus,” FHWA stated in the notice.

“If the ET-Plus end terminal fails the crash tests or FHWA otherwise determines that the ET-Plus poses safety concerns to the traveling public, FHWA will revoke the eligibility letter for the device.”

The public information request expires Feb. 9, 2015, according to the notice.

See related stories:
Guardrail company ordered to pay $525 million for making false claims
Guardrail company halts sales after lawsuit; states jump ship

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