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Safety of highway guardrails becomes subject of controversy

One of the most common roadside sights is the ubiquitous metal guardrail. Now, this mundane safety device has become the subject of sharp controversy for its alleged failure to prevent - and indeed worsen - some kinds of auto accidents. Safety tests now underway in the California desert are being attacked by the guardrail manufacturer as unnecessary and inaccurate, while others claim that the manufacturer changed the design to save money but instead made the guardrails less safe.

The controversy is centered on the end guardrail manufactured by Trinity Industries and designated as the ET-Plus. Critics charge that, in 2005, after receiving federal approval of the design of the ET-Plus, Trinity quietly changed the design to save manufacturing costs and did not inform the government. These design changes have allegedly made the ET-Plus far less safe. The guardrail is supposed to collapse upon impact and absorb the energy of the crash while keeping the vehicle's occupants safe. Critics of the ET-Plus argue that the guardrail does not collapse as intended and instead buckles into long pieces of metal that can pierce an automobile and, occasionally, its occupants. In June, a Texas judge entered a judgment of $663 million against Trinity based on similar claims made by one of Trinitiy's competitors.

The state of Virginia is currently conducting tests in southern California about 90 miles east of Los Angeles to resolve the safety argument. Representatives from Trinity Industries were invited to attend, but they walked out of the tests after the first day, claiming that the tests were unnecessary and improperly conducted.

This dispute is far from any kind of resolution, but it provides a reminder that even the most common sort of safety equipment can become a cause of serious injury if its design is defective. Anyone who has suffered a serious injury or lost a loved one due to the failure of safety equipment may wish to consult a lawyer who specializes in such cases. Such a consultation can provide an analysis of the facts and an estimate of the likelihood of recovering damages for personal injuries, medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering.

Source: ABCTV News, "Guardrail maker walks out on first day of new crash test," Sep. 23, 2015

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