There have been recent reports regarding the safety of the ET Plus guardrail being used throughout Missouri. About a year ago, a Missouri man named Bradley Abeln was involved in an accident on a Kansas City area highway. Bradley’s vehicle was struck by another vehicle causing him to lose control of his car. Bradley’s vehicle struck an ET Plus guardrail during the spin-out on his drivers-side door. The amount of impact Bradley’s Bronco sustained from the collision with the ET Plus guardrail caused his door to become completely caved in, crushing and killing him in the process.
Crashes like Bradley’s have occurred in several states. There have been a number of ET Plus guardrail collisions causing death and serious injury. The product was initially tested by the Federal Highway Administration in 2005 and met all required standards of safety. However, following the approved crash test ratings, several people have been injured or killed due to failures of the ET Plus guardrail. In 2012, a competing guardrail manufacturer reached out to the FHA alleging performance issues. The Administration originally assumed this revelation was due to competitive business strategies. As the injury and death numbers continued to rise, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials penned a letter to the FHA in December 2012 voicing their concerns of the safety of the general public with the use of the ET Plus guardrail systems.
The AASHTO inquired whether a product should undergo periodic testing to determine its crash-worthiness, rather than performing a single test to determine safety. According to the FHA, Trinity Products, the manufacturer of the ET Plus guardrail, did not disclose a change to the feeder chute of the guardrail subsequent to the approved testing. The feeder chute size was decreased from 5 inches to 4 inches, which some experts believe is the reason for the defect in the guardrail.
Why does the ET Plus guardrail fail?
The way the design is supposed to work is when a vehicle makes impact with an ET Plus guardrail, the end cap is supposed to take the brunt of impact which engages the feeder chute. The feeder chute allows the end cap to travel back against the ET Plus guardrail, which causes the guardrail to curl back like a ribbon. When operating correctly, the ET Plus guardrail will then be directed away from the passenger compartment of the vehicle, as well as aiding in stopping the vehicle and allowing the vehicle to remain upright.
Some experts allege that the decrease in the feeder chute size causes a “throat lock” or the pinning of the end cap to the feeder chute. This results in the ET Plus guardrail maintaining its rigidity and becoming a spear-like weapon of destruction. Vehicles involved in crashes with the malfunctioning ET Plus guardrail often have the guardrail driven completely through the engine and engine compartment or through the floor or windshield of the vehicle. The amount of force necessary for this to occur is usually a fatal amount. In some cases, drivers have had limbs amputated due to injury, as well as compound and crush fractures to several body parts. Many have also sustained brain and spinal injuries as a result of the failing ET Plus Guardrail.
The State of Missouri has been somewhat proactive in finding a remedy to this issue. It has been determined there are approximately 6800 ET Plus guardrail units being used over the 5,500 miles of Missouri highway. MODOT has suspended purchasing this product while it conducts its own independent crash testing. Further research will be conducted by MODOT to determine whether the ET Plus guardrail is suitable for use. With lawsuits being filed in various parts of the country and over 30 states banning the use of this particular model, it is likely this product will be taken out of commission. It is our hope this happens before anyone else is maimed or killed.