Trinity Guardrail Testing Finishes – What’s Next?

Testing of a controversial guardrail component that is being removed from Virginia roads as a safety hazard has concluded in the guardrail’s failure and further evidence that the guardrail could cause “devastating injuries” in vehicle accidents, according to an expert’s court filing.

The Trinity ET-Plus guardrail system has been under fire since October, when a federal whistleblower case found that Trinity had defrauded the government by failing to inform the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) of design changes it made to the guardrails in 2005.

After the trial, the FHA ordered Trinity to conduct a series of crash tests. The tests wrapped up in January, with the final test resulting in “more extensive damage to the car than in earlier tests,” according to the New York Times.

In Norfolk, 13NewsNow reports that an engineer hired by the legal team supporting Joshua Harmon, the Virginia man who filed the whistleblower lawsuit against the maker of the ET-Plus, has filed an affidavit in Texas that says the guardrail failed in the January test.

Final Test Resulted in Substantial Damage to Vehicle

Evidence at the whistleblower trial showed that the guardrail system may jam when hit from the front, causing the metal rail to spear the passenger compartment instead of safely snaking away from the vehicle.

The Times describes the final crash test as involving a 1998 Geo Metro that drove into an ET-Plus guardrail while being driven at a speed of 60 miles per hour. The car spun out, and the driver’s-side door struck a bent piece of the metal guardrail, the report says.

The crash left the car with what “appeared to be substantial damage to the driver’s-side door, which collapsed inward and, in the aftermath, hung open, revealing the test dummy. There was also damage to the front of the car,” the Times states.

Brian Coon, the engineer working for Harmon’s legal team, states in his affidavit that the “deformation of the driver’s side door in the January 27 crash test not only could have caused disabling injuries, but showed a propensity to penetrate the vehicle and cause devastating injuries. This was a clear failure.”

According to The Times, Dean Sicking, a guardrail expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who participated in the  federal fraud case against Trinity, said after viewing video of the crash test that the guardrail had “clearly failed” the test.

Trinity Responds After Expert’s Affidavit Is Filed

Trinity responded to Coon’s affidavit by releasing details of four tests prior to the final test, in which the guardrail functioned properly.

“The ET-Plus guardrail end-terminal system is a safe, effective roadside safety product – a fact now documented by a report released by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) confirming the unequivocal success of the first four crash tests using guardrails that represent the vast majority of the ET-Plus end-terminal system installations on U.S. roadways,” the company said in a statement.

According to the Times, the FHWA, which has posted ET-Plus crash test data online, actually said it would have to review all data from the crash tests before making a final pronouncement on the safety of the guardrail system.

Unfortunately, this leaves the future of the ET-Plus system up in the air.

More than 30 states have banned the guardrail and numerous individuals and families have personal injury lawsuits pending against Trinity.

However, evidence from both the final crash in which the guardrail allegedly failed and the previous tests in which it reportedly worked properly will undoubtedly factor into legal claims brought by people who allegedly were harmed by car crashes into these guardrails.