SCHUMER: NEW FED PLAN TO TEST POTENTIALLY FAULTY, DANGEROUS HIGHWAY GUARDRAILS IS INSUFFICIENT; USES OLD & OUTDATED SAFETY STANDARDS – SCHUMER PUSHES FED HIGHWAY ADMIN. TO TEST GUARDRAILS USING NEW, MORE STRINGENT METHOD
Guardrails Are Meant To Keep Drivers Safe, But End Terminal Piece Called “ET-Plus” Installed On as Many as 500,000 Guardrails Across The Country Can Pierce Car, Injuring Driver & Passenger Instead of Absorbing Collision – Manufacturer Changed Product Design in 2005 Without Alerting Feds & Company Was Recently Found Guilty Of Fraud
After Significant Pressure from Schumer & Others, Feds & Guardrail Manufacturer Agreed to A Plan To Re-Evaluate Product & Identify Potential Safety Issues – This Plan, However, Would Employ Old Standards to Measure Effectiveness & Safety of Guardrail Component Even Though New, More Robust Safety Standards Were Developed for Guardrails in 2009 and Implemented in 2011; Schumer Urges Feds to Test Product With New Standards
Schumer: Driver Safety Shouldn’t Be Stuck in 2005 When Drivers Could Be In Danger in 2014
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to reconsider its decision to allow end terminal product manufacturer, Trinity Highway Products, to use outdated standards when evaluating the effectiveness and safety of its guardrail component that has been reported to malfunction during motor vehicle accidents, endangering the lives of drivers and passengers. Schumer explained that the guardrail end terminal product manufactured by Trinity, called “ET-Plus,” is intended to reduce the impact of a collision and deflect the guardrail from the vehicle. However, Trinity’s re-designed “ET-Plus” guardrail end terminal can jam, turning the guardrail into a dangerous spear that can pierce through the vehicle, killing or injuring those inside. Schumer noted that at least five deaths around the country have been linked to this faulty end terminal. Trinity re-designed this component back in 2005, but failed to notify the FHWA of the changes it made, and the company has since been convicted of fraud. After significant pressure from Schumer and others, the FHWA has agreed to compel Trinity to do additional crash testing on this component. However, in the proposal submitted to, and approved by, the FHWA, Trinity was allowed to use the safety standards that were in place in 2005 because its guardrails were designed at that time, even though a more recent and more stringent set of standards and safety testing procedures were published in 2009 and implemented in 2011. Schumer is calling on the FHWA to hold the company to the new testing standard since these standards will do a better job at determining whether these guardrails are safe during all types of collisions.
“Guardrails are there to protect us during a car accident, not to become lethal weapons that put drivers and passengers further in danger. We must get to the bottom of how dangerous these ‘ET-Plus’ guardrails really are, and that means using the most up-to-date safety standards and testing,” said Schumer. “The Federal Highway Administration should not allow Trinity, the manufacturer, to get away with testing the product under old standards. They did not abide by the rules in 2005 when they changed the product’s design without telling anyone, therefore bypassing safety testing, so they should not be allowed to turn back the clock and try to prove their product is safe under old, outdated methods. These ‘ET-Plus’ guardrails should be tested under the most recent and most stringent protocols.”
Schumer said that the FHWA’s approval of Trinity’s proposal to test its guardrails using old standards should be reversed. Schumer said that Trinity should be held to the same, current safety standards that other guardrail manufacturers are held to. Schumer said that the most up-to-date standards, called the AASHTO Manual for Assessing Safety Hardware (MASH) requires companies to use the most up-to-date methodology, a testing location that is devoid of conflicts of interest, a representative sample of comparable devices, a testing of devices in the field, and a high level of transparency. These standards are much more stringent than the 2005 National Highway Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Report 350 standards, which were replaced by MASH criteria back in 2009. Schumer noted that given Trinity’s track record of concealing information from federal inspectors and the potentially lethal impact of their design changes Trinity should be held to the newer and more comprehensive safety standard put in place in 2011. Schumer insisted that testing guardrails in 2014 based on a standard that was replaced more than 5 years ago makes no sense.
Schumer explained that, at the time the ET-Plus was originally accepted, the NCHRP 350 standards were the applicable criteria. The MASH standard was developed in 2009, and by 2011, the FHWA announced any approval of new or revised highway safety hardware would be required to meet the MASH test criteria. Therefore, Schumer said, the FHWA should be testing Trinity’s modification to its product under the specifications of the MASH tests rather than the NCHRP 350. Schumer also said that Trinity should not be grandfathered in under the 2005 standards by the FHWA when it clearly failed to disclose the changes it made to the ET-Plus product that year.
The new MASH standard also recommend that end terminals like the ET-Plus be tested at different angles than under the older, NCHRP 350 standards. MASH recommends that end terminals like the ET-Plus be tested at angles close to five degrees, but Trinity will perform its tests at a 15 degree angle, as outlined in the NCHRP 350. An expert from the University of Alabama-Birmingham has indicated that failed safety tests show that the ET-Plus tends to malfunction when struck at shallow angles, closer to five degrees. MASH also states that tests should be expanded if the design is discovered to have any “significant ‘window of vulnerability.’” In this case, the ET-Plus seems to be most vulnerable at a shallow angle, and so the testing should be expanded to reflect that, something which the MASH standards would require. Safety testing must account for the worst case scenario, which is why the MASH standard was adopted to in 2011, and why Schumer is urging FHWA to hold the ET-Plus to that higher standard.
In October, FHWA required that Trinity do additional crash testing on the “ET-Plus” guardrail and provide that information to the federal government for review. Schumer said that it is estimated that there could be as many as 500,000 of these guardrails installed around the country, though the exact number is still unknown as FHWA continues to collect information from state and local governments.
Schumer also reiterated his call for the FHWA to work with the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) to conduct a top-to-bottom review of where these guardrails are installed so that if needed, they can eventually be replaced more quickly, once the results of the additional crash testing are known. Schumer also said the FHWA should provide guidance to New York State on whether and how to effectively replace these guardrails. Schumer noted that there were more than 300,000 motor vehicle accidents reported in New York State in 2013, and that the presence of faulty end terminals on New York’s roads can make these accidents even more dangerous than they already are.
Schumer explained that guardrail end terminals are designed to give way when hit head-on, absorbing energy by deforming and deflecting the guardrail away from the vehicle, and slowing it down in the process. However, in 2005, Trinity Industries, the manufacturer of the ET-Plus guardrail end terminal, made a change to the dimensions of their product without notifying the FHWA. Schumer said that lawsuits alleged that this one-inch change was made to save money, and makes the new ET-Plus prone to malfunction. The smaller end terminal can jam instead of sliding along the guardrail, thereby not deflecting the guardrail and turning it into a dangerous spear that can pierce through the vehicle, killing or injuring those inside. A recent study of crashes in two states conducted by the University of Alabama-Birmingham found that a crash involving the ET-Plus was more likely to end in both serious injuries and fatalities than one involving an older design.
A copy of Senator Schumer’s latest letter to the FHWA appears below:
Dear Acting Administrator Nadeau:
I write today to reiterate my continued concerns with the safety of the ET-Plus guardrail end terminal. As you are well aware, it is critical that FHWA determine if the design changes made in 2005 to the end terminal are truly safe, as the company claims, or if in fact there are significant safety issues with the guardrail. I applaud you for compelling Trinity to conduct additional crash testing on the end terminal, however I am concerned that the testing plan laid out by Trinity and approved by FHWA leaves significant gaps in oversight and as a result will continue to leave unanswered questions about the safety of the guardrail end terminal.
Specifically, the testing model put forward proposes to test the guardrails using the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Report 350 testing standards rather than the AASHTO Manual for Assessing Safety Hardware (MASH) adopted in 2011. In order to ensure the safety of the traveling public FHWA must require Trinity to test the guardrails using the toughest and most up to date possible standard, in this situation that is MASH. Grandfathering Trinity into the older NCHRP standard, which was replaced in 2011 by MASH leaves significant gaps and concerns with the safety of the Trinity ET-Plus end terminal. While I understand that the ET-Plus end terminal was developed prior to the 2011 standard, given Trinity’s track record and the significant and documented concerns with the ET-Plus end terminal, FHWA should be exhaustive in efforts to determine the performance of the ET-Plus.
In addition, I want to reiterate my request for further information about the number of these guardrail end terminals installed on roadways across the country. I appreciate the complexity involved with gathering that amount of data from across the country and the challenge of working with a wide array of state and local governments, however it is critical that the size and scope of this potential issue is determined as soon as possible. I appreciate your continued efforts to provide additional information on this issue.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator
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