December 17, 2014 — As safety tests involving potentially defective guardrails continue this week, the New York Times has reported concerning evidence that the guardrails being tested differ slightly from those actually installed on the road.
Trinity Industries, the manufacturer of the ET-Plus guardrail, lost a federal lawsuit in October after a jury found that the company defrauded the federal government by failing to report design changes in 2005.
Those changes, said whistleblower Joshua Harman, made the guardrail more likely to impale oncoming vehicles in head-on crashes instead of deflecting away.
According to the Times, Harman now says Trinity made an additional design change that was never reported to the government — widening the “exit gap” to reduce the risk of the guardrail jamming up inside.
Executives at Trinity have testified that the exit gap is supposed to be between 1-inch to 1.15-inches. Four out of eight guardrails being tested have an exit gap of 1.25 inches, 25% larger than many of those on the road. Even a small change in dimensions could dramatically affect how the guardrail functions.
The guardrails being tested were purchased in June 2014 by the California Department of Transportation — two years after Trinity was sued for changing the design without conducting crash-tests.
Earlier this week, state officials in Virginia were promptly shut down when they asked that the safety-tests be conducted on guardrails like the ones on their highways. State officials were also barred from photographing, videotaping, or measuring the guardrails being tested. Only two members of the media were allowed to observe the tests.
Tony Furst, the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) associate administrator for safety, told reporters afterward that “there was nothing remarkable” about the results of the second crash-test.
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