But some of those roads make me just a little nervous, and so I'm grateful for guardrails.
At least I was, until I read an article by Danielle Ivory and Aaron M. Kessler in Monday's New York Times that warned that the guardrails installed in nearly every state in the country may not be safe. In fact, "some guardrail heads had apparently malfunctioned, in essence turning the rails into spears when cars hit them and injuring people instead of cushioning the blow." (Full article here; followup article from today's Times, here; the issue has also been covered by Brian Ross of ABC's 20/20 newsmagazine, television clip here)
Missouri has banned further installation of these guardrails, as have Nevada and Massachusetts. Virginia is considering a similar move, and is threatening to remove those currently in place.
A primary manufacturer of guardrails, Texas-based Trinity Industries, is the object of a federal whistle-blower lawsuit, alleging fraud, following a significant design change.
Trinity’s new design reduced the width of the steel channel behind the rail head at the end of the guardrail, from five inches to four. Instead of sliding along the rail, which collapses much like an accordion, and helping it curl out of the way of the oncoming vehicle, the rail head can become jammed, some state officials say. In those cases, the long metal guardrail does not get pushed aside — instead, it can become a bayonet that can pierce the vehicle and any person in its way, the state officials say.Design changes, along with detailed diagrams, are supposed to be disclosed to the Federal Highway Administration.But when Trinity narrowed its rail head design it did not make any such disclosures. In response to a question from The Times, Trinity said it submitted results of the crash tests to the agency in 2005, though it did not directly address whether it highlighted the change to the rail head.For at least seven years, tens of thousands of the modified ET-Plus rail heads were installed from coast to coast. It was only in 2012, after a patent case in Virginia led to the discovery of the change, that the federal highway agency was alerted.
At least five deaths, and many more accidents, have been blamed on the guardrails. The Federal Highway Administration continues to claim that the guardrails are safe.
But I'm starting to have my doubts about the FHA's claims.
Especially because, as the Times journalists report, "internal communications and documents from the highway administration show that a senior engineer charged with examining the guardrails expressed reservations about their safety, before he signed off on their continued use about two years ago."
Feel like expressing more than reservations?