There are many safeguards designed and implemented to help keep drivers and their passengers safe on the roadways. However, these safeguards don't always operate as intended. According to ABC 15, recent lawsuits indicate that guardrails have become significantly more dangerous since 2005, when their model head changed, leading to more auto accidents.
The news story recounts various tragedies caused by guardrails: one lacerated the leg of an 18-year-old in Florida in 2010 after it punched through the floor of the truck the teen was riding in; the fatal injury of a mother in 2008 after a guardrail came straight through her SUV; a family involved in a crash in New York in 2001 when a guardrail cut through the wheel well and into the back seat, pinning a two-year-old in his car seat.
When Josh Harman realized that the guardrail heads were failing, he took action by filing a lawsuit against Trinity Industries, who manufactures most of the guardrails on roadways. Harman's position is that the newer guardrail model heads were smaller than the previous model used, and that they were not functioning as intended.
The New Design
In the prior version of the guardrail heads, the feeder chute was larger, at five inches wide, and more than 15 inches high. The exit chute measured one-and-a-half inches. In the event of an impact, the railing is meant to thread through the terminal head and pigtail out the side, away from the vehicle. In the new smaller model, the feeder chute is only four inches wide, which Harman says causes the railing to get stuck behind the head, or cuts through the car and its occupants, causing serious injuries and even death.
The Federal Highway Administration's Involvement
Upon questioning in conjunction with the lawsuit, officials from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) said they had no knowledge of the changes to the guardrail head until long after they were installed along roadways across the U.S. This is contrary to federal rules that require guardrail manufacturers to report any alterations to the FHWA. However, in another interesting twist in the case, ABC15 Investigators uncovered a letter where the same FHWA official wrote to Trinity questioning the company about the changes to the guardrail heads, but the letter was never sent. The Federal Government ended up allowing the proposed changes to go through after a meeting with Trinity Executives. Attorneys involved in the lawsuit believe this fact points to a huge cover-up, indicating the government was aware of the design changes and their consequences but have failed to prevent further dangerous results.
Trinity executives sent a response to Scripps station in West Palm Beach, Florida, stating that they have a high degree of confidence in the performance and integrity of the guardrail design system and that any allegations against them are false and misleading, and are being reviewed by the FHWA. Trinity also pointed out that FHWA re-affirmed its acceptance of the guardrail system in October of 2012, and approved its use on highways across the nation.
ABC 15 notes that the FHWA still does not have a formal approval letter with diagrams for the newer "ET Plus" guardrail.
The FHWA released a statement saying that in 2005 when the new, smaller guardrail head was tested, it met all crash test safety standards, and that the agency has not received any complaints during the last seven years when the guardrails were used across the country. The only communication the FHWA previously received was in early 2012 from a competitor of Trinity, to allege performance issues.If you or someone you know has been involved in an accident involving a guardrail, or any kind of auto accident, it is worth contacting an experienced Illinois accident and injury attorney who can advise you of your rights. Contact Mevorah Law Offices, LLC today.
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