Federal highway officials have long insisted that guardrails are safe, but some guardrails have caused serious and sometimes fatal injuries.
Some guardrails are cut to form rail heads or end terminals and should be curled safely, but instead are cut into spears and when cars hit them they injure the occupants instead of cushioning the blow.
Because of its safety concerns, some states have banned further installation of rail heads. Lawsuits say that guardrails were to blame for five deaths, and many more injuries, in at least 14 accidents nationwide.
The Federal Highway Administration, the agency charged with ensuring the safety of the nation’s roads, continues to say that the guardrails, installed on highways in almost every state, meet crash-test criteria. And the Texas-based manufacturer, Trinity Industries, a large supplier of guardrails nationwide, also denies there is a problem. However, internal communications from the highway administration show that a senior engineer expressed reservations about their safety, before he signed off on their continued use about two years ago.
Trinity changed their design in 2005 to reduce the width of the steel channel behind the rail head at the end of the guardrail, from five inches to four. Instead of sliding along the rail, which collapses like an accordion, and helping it curl out of the way of the oncoming vehicle, the rail head can become jammed, becoming a spear that can pierce the vehicle and the person coming its way.
Design changes are supposed to be disclosed to the Federal Highway Administration. But when Trinity narrowed its rail head design it did not make any such disclosures. Tens of thousands of the modified rail heads were installed nationwide up until 2012 until a patent case in Virginia led to the discovery of the change, alerting the federal highway agency.
Serious injuries related to rail heads on guardrails continue to be reported nationwide. If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a guardrail crash, contact Jacoby & Meyers for a free consultation today. We’re here to help.
Source: NY Times