Did Cost-Cutting Make New Jersey Guardrails Unsafe?

While manufacturers often argue that consumer safety is their No. 1 priority, a recent investigation has shown yet another example of companies putting the bottom line ahead of driver safety.

New Jersey became the 31st state to boycott guardrail end terminals manufactured by Trinity Highway Products, LLC, in late 2014 after the New Jersey Department of Transportation outlawed the products in construction and maintenance projects. Guardrail end terminals, when designed and manufactured correctly, are supposed to move with the vehicle and absorb some of the impact of the collision. Instead, the Trinity Highway Products terminals lock when hit head-on by an oncoming vehicle (rather than move), resulting in the guardrails cutting through the vehicle like a spear.

“The department will continue to work with the Federal Highway Administration on this issue,” said Stephen Schapiro, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Transportation on NJ.com. “The NJDOT’s top priority is the safety of motorists on our highways.”

The Trinity guardrail end terminals have been linked to approximately 14 car accidents, resulting in a number of injuries and at least eight fatalities. The victims of these unfortunate and preventable accidents were the focus of a “20/20” broadcast in September 2014. Since then, a Texas jury has found Trinity Industries (the parent company of Trinity Highway Products) guilty of defrauding the federal government by disguising changes in the product design. Trinity Industries allegedly reduced the size of the metal piece in the guardrail end terminal by an inch, saving the company $2 per guardrail and approximately $50,000 per year. The company did not report this change to federal or state transportation authorities at the time. The Texas court ordered Trinity Industries to pay $175 million in damages, despite the company’s adamance that the guardrail end terminals are safe and Federal Highway Administration-approved.

Trinity Industries submitted plans for additional safety tests by October 31, 2014, to avoid a nationwide ban of the product. While the Federal Highway Administration did not reveal details of the re-testing plans, they will be subject to a thorough review by the administration.

“We are requiring Trinity to provide us with a plan to re-test the device in order to make sure it meets crash test criteria as it has in the past,” said Neil Gallney of the Federal Highway Administration. “Trinity provided us with that plan on October 31 and we are in the process of reviewing it.”

There are approximately 200,000 ET-Plus guardrail systems in place throughout the U.S., according to Federal Highway Administration data. Trinity Industries has revised the design of the guardrail end terminals at least three times since they were introduced in 2000, and the company has already admitted once to changing the ET-Plus system in 2005 without telling the Federal Highway Administration.

 

2015-03-05T20:19:38+00:00