Are unsafe guardrails making your commute dangerous?

While driving down the highway, most of us don’t even notice the small and subtle structures running along the road. Some are highway dividers made of concrete with less-solid materials sticking out of the top. Other times, they are small fences running along the shoulder of the highway.

These structures serve a number of purposes. But perhaps their most important functions are to contain out-of-control vehicles and absorb crash impact forces. They may not always stop cars and trucks before they leave or cross the highway, but if constructed correctly, they can turn a fatal crash into a survivable one.

According to a lawsuit set to go trial this month, one of the largest manufacturers of guardrails in the nation may be hiding changes it made to its product that make it less effective and safe than the company claims. The company being sued, Texas-based Trinity Industries Inc, gained federal approval in 2000 for the ET-Plus end terminal, a critical safety component of the guardrails.

The man suing the company alleges that Trinity changed its design a few years after approval but did not inform federal authorities. Moreover, the plaintiff says, the changes may actually make crashes more dangerous rather than less. End terminals are designed to absorb impact forces and give way when struck. The design changes to the ET-Plus, according to the lawsuit, make it more likely to lock up and essentially turn into a giant shiv that can pierce through vehicles.

Unsafe highway design is one of the many factors that can cause or contribute to auto accidents. If Trinity is manufacturing faulty safety products used on public roads and highways, our tax dollars are being spent in ways that could ultimately harm us.

Source: Insurance Journal, “On the Road: Are America’s Guardrails Dangerous?” Patrick G. Lee, June 13, 2014