The ET-Plus Guardrail Debate: Are They Safe?

An ET-Plus guardrail

Guardrails populate your city’s streets. You see them on virtually every bend in the road and freeway entrance. You assume these guardrails protect the drivers and passengers in your town and minimize car-related injuries and deaths. However, there has been some controversy over whether the end terminals of a particular type of guardrails do this job effectively.

Read on to learn more about the ongoing debate over the end terminals on ET-Plus guardrails and how states across the nation think about the issue.

What Guardrails Are Supposed to Do

Guardrails are designed to protect cars from going off the road. The end terminal, or rail head, sits at the end of a guardrail. You’ll see this part on both ends of the guardrails around your town, although only the rail head facing oncoming traffic tends to cause problems.

End terminals are designed so that if a car crashes into them head on, they will slide down the guardrail upon impact. As they move, the guardrail itself will crumple and shear away from the car in long strips.

This slows down the car’s speed, and keeps it from bouncing off and back onto the road where it could hit other drivers.

With an effective rail head, the car will still be damaged, but the guardrail won’t penetrate the vehicle.

ET-Plus Guardrails

Unlike other rail heads, the end terminals on a popular type of guardrail called ET-Plus might not do their job. Multiple complaints and a lawsuit have been filed in recent years claiming these end terminals “lock up” and cut straight into vehicles that hit them.

How ET-Plus Guardrails Are Different from Others

ET-Plus guardrails are manufactured by Trinity Industries. In 2005, Trinity reportedly made some changes to the guardrail’s design in order to cut down on costs. One of Trinity’s competitors, Josh Harman, filed a lawsuit in 2014 claiming these changes have made it possible for the guardrails to malfunction.

Lawsuit Against Trinity Industries

The lawsuit claims that due to a faulty rail head, rather than shearing away from cars who hit the end terminals, the guardrails remain intact and penetrate the vehicle. There have been multiple reports of incidents in which guardrails rammed through cars and caused major injuries, such as lost limbs and even fatalities.

The rail head’s design change restricted a feeder shoot from five inches wide down to four inches. The lawsuit against Trinity claims these smaller heads cause the railing to get stuck when cars strike them.

What Incidents with ET-Plus Guardrails Have Been Reported

There have been claims of dozens of deaths and over 100 injuries due to crashes in which ET-Plus end terminal supposedly malfunctioned.

For example, a Los Angeles man died in 2014 when he hit a guardrail that didn’t buckle properly, causing his car to flip upside down and smash into a sign pole. Another California man sustained severe injuries in 2014 after he crashed into a guardrail which sliced into his car and amputated his legs.

Trinity’s Response

Trinity denies that the modified design of their guard rails causes them to lock up on impact. In 2014, a Texas court imposed a fine on the company for not notifying the government of the design changes.

Trinity has since stopped selling the modified terminal ends and begun crash testing to analyze how the end terminals react in a collision.

How Various States Are Dealing with ET-Plus Guardrails

The majority of states have imposed a ban on future installation of ET-Plus guardrails, including:

  •  Massachusetts
  • Missouri
  • Nevada
  • Kansas
  • Arizona
  • Washington
  • New York

These states, among many others, will not include any ET-Plus end terminals in their current or future road projects. However, although further installations have been prohibited, existing end terminals still stand even in the states that refuse to install more.

ET-Plus Guardrail Test Results

Crash tests for the ET-Plus end terminals are ongoing and the complete results have not reached finalization. However, the Trinity-made guardrails passed their first four mandated crash tests. The rail heads have been tested eight times in total, and the results of the last half of the tests have not yet been released.

Although ABC news reported that some preliminary pictures seem to indicate negative results in the eighth crash test, the article also states Trinity claims you cannot jump to conclusions based on aerial images. While professionals on the plaintiff’s side have claimed the test looks like a clear failure, experts on the defendant’s side say it’s too soon to make premature judgments.

The debate over ET-Plus guardrails is still ongoing. If your state hasn’t banned future installation of these guardrails, and if you still have thousands of them out on your roads, the best thing you can do is make sure your rails are well-maintained and make repairs when necessary.

Keep up with this issue as it develops to help make sure your town’s guardrails remain effective protectors.