Defective guardrails are killing and severely injuring people. And all because one company wanted to save $50,000.
In 2005, Trinity Industries, a company that manufactures and sells highway guardrails, had a lucrative contract with the United States government. Their guardrail, the ET-Plus, was purchased and installed on highways across the nation.
That same year, a company official at Trinity found a way to save the company about $50,000 annually. The savings came by modifying the ET-Plus, reducing a crucial piece of metal by one inch. That one inch change – which saved the company $2 a guardrail – is the likely cause of at least eight deaths. It is also responsible for more than a dozen life-altering injuries.
Guardrails can and do save lives, even in head-on collisions. The blunt end terminal is designed to absorb the energy from a crash without pushing the car back onto the roadway. As the blunt end is pushed, the sharp rail is deflected away from the car. The passengers are kept safe inside their vehicle.
The ET-Plus design defect means the rail occasionally fails to shear away from the car. Instead, the rail “locks up” and drives through the car. In several of these cases, the rail severed the limbs of drivers. Jay Traylor, a North Carolina man, lost part of both legs after a collision with a guardrail.
Trinity did not disclose the modification of the ET-Plus to the federal government when the change was made. They neglected to crash test the new design for safety. In October 2014, a jury in Texas found Trinity guilty of defrauding the government and ordered them to pay $175 million in damages. The company is appealing the case. If they lose, they will likely have to pay more than half a billion dollars in damages. (Statutory mandate is expected to triple the original amount.)
What a pittance $50,000 a year must seem now.
My partners and I are disgusted at the lack of regard for safety. The defective ET-Plus guardrails are in all 50 states and 60 countries. The Safety Institute, an organization we have partnered with in our fight to improve elevator safety, looked into guardrail safety. They recently released their final report on guardrail end terminals.
The Safety Institute study questions the safety of guardrail terminals. More research is needed, but initial findings show the ET-Plus guardrail is more likely to produce a severe injury or death than the ET-2000, the first crashworthy guardrail. (The ET-2000 is also manufactured by Trinity.)
The Safety Institute’s mission is to support evidence-based research with the aim of reducing injury and improving product safety. They will continue to support the study of guardrails.
My partners and I will continue our mission, assisting people who are injured by neglect of companies such as this.