Faulty Guardrails: Intended to Protect the Public, Now Blamed for Injuries and Deaths Nationwide

Author: Scott D. Fitzgerald, Personal Injury Lawyer, Richmond VA 

On September 17, 2012, Melton Tucker fell asleep at the wheel on his commute to work on Highway 81, outside of Dallas, Texas.  His car drifted off the highway and collided with a guardrail.  His Chevrolet Cruze struck the beginning piece of a guardrail, otherwise known as an end terminal or guardrail head.  The guardrail came through the car and struck Tucker in the head, killing him instantly.[1] 

This accident and others like it have raised questions about the effectiveness of guardrail heads manufactured by Trinity Highway Products, based in Dallas.  The ET-Plus, designed by Trinity, is one of the most common guardrail end terminals used in the United States.  The ET-Plus and other guardrail ends are designed to cushion an impact by feeding the W shaped guardrail into the end guardrail piece and flattening it out into a ribbon of steel as a vehicle’s momentum carries it into and down a length of guardrail.[2] This ribbon of steel gets distributed out a chute and off to the side, rather than penetrating into the passenger cabin of the striking vehicle.[3]The design helps to absorb the impact and slows the vehicle down.  Unfortunately, there has been an increase in accidents reported where the ET-Plus failed to properly feed the guardrail into the chute of the end guardrail.  Instead of being knocked harmlessly off to the side through the chute, pieces of guardrail are impaling motorists, seriously injuring or even killing them.    

Lawyers for victims who have been severely injured in killed in accidents involving the ET-Plus penetrating a vehicle have alleged that Trinity received NHTSA approval for the ET-Plus with a 5 inch model in 2005 after rigorous crash testing.  At some point in time after that successful test, these lawyers claim that Trinity shrunk the size of the end guardrail to 4 inches without notifying the federal government.  These smaller 4 inch models may be the culprit behind the failures of the end guardrails to do their job. 

The Nevada Department of Transportation is concerned enough about the allegations that they have removed the ET-Plus model from their list of approved products for use on Nevada highways.  Meg Ragonese, spokesperson for NDOT, explained, “[a] change made to the size of the guard channels on the ET-Plus was not reported to NDOT, as required by our policy.”[4]  The non-profit organization American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) will begin a project this summer to test the safety of all guardrail heads currently in use across the United States.[5]  

In the meantime, lawsuits against Trinity continue.  If you or someone you know has been injured by a defective guardrail call the experienced attorneys at Allen and Allen for a free consultation.

About the Author: Scott Fitzgerald is is the fourth generation of the Allen family to join the Allen Law Firm. He is a Richmond personal injury attorney and focuses his practice on motorcycle accident,  truck accident and car accident cases in the Richmond area


[1] http://www.wptv.com/news/local-news/investigations/a-guardrail-system-lining-national-highways-is-raising-questions-about-safety-and-effectiveness.

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