WRAL Investigates

Crash test data: Problems not limited to controversial ET-Plus guardrail

Posted September 11, 2015

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— Tests by the federal Department of Transportation found that a controversial guardrail blamed for serious damage and injury in some crash cases was no more dangerous than others of its type.

The ET-Plus Guardrail, manufactured by Texas-based Trinity Industries Inc., was the subject of lawsuits after a series of horrific crashes in which the guardrail failed to peel away and instead pierced cars and drivers. Forty states banned the ET-Plus due to safety concerns, but North Carolina still allows it to be used.

Since that time, the guardrail has passed a total of eight safety tests, including those on the ET-Plus 31-inch model, the most common standard.

The latest round of tests was conducted by a joint task force of the Federal Highway Administration and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. While it found "performance limitations in certain impact and installation scenarios," those faults were common across manufacturers of guardrails and not specific to the ET-Plus, according to a report issued Friday.

Josh Harman, a man who spent his career installing guardrails, won a $600 million judgment against Trinity when a jury agreed with his claim that the company made changes to its guardrail heads, also known as endcaps, and failed to tell the government about the changes.

A jury unanimously found in Harmon's favor last fall, saying "Trinity Industries, Inc. and Trinity Highway Products, LLC (collectively, “Trinity”) 'knowingly made, used, or caused to be made or used, a false record or statement material to a false or fraudulent claim.'"

Jay Traylor, a North Carolina man who lost his legs following a crashing involving the ET-Plus in Hillsborough, has blamed the guardrail's design for the severity of his injuries.

State Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Charbonneau said more than 10,000 ET Plus guardrails line North Carolina highways, and the state has had not other reports of injuries related to the ET Plus outside of Traylor's 2014 crash.

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