There has been a lot of information in the news about Trinity Industries (previously Syro Steele Co.) guardrail systems which have been used as a highway safety device since 1989. We see these rails in use on the sides of most major highways across the 50 states serving to keep vehicles from enduring excessive damage, going over embankments, or rolling over. Trinity rail systems are also said to be in use in over 60 other countries.
A major legal battle has ensued over the construction of these guardrails on our highway systems and whether they are serving to protect us or causing more harm than good. Joshua Harmon has worked on guardrail systems for 25 years and, upon being notified by his attorneys that the patents on Trinity Industries’ ET-Plus guardrails had expired, Harmon went to work manufacturing his own. His attorneys were wrong and Trinity Industries sued Harmon for patent infringement and were awarded an undisclosed amount of money.
It was while Harmon was reproducing guardrails using Trinity’s stated specifications, he realized that the specs that were approved by the Federal Highway Safety Administration were, in fact, not what was being used in the industry currently. And these new models contained a fatal flaw.
How Guardrails Are Supposed to Work
Prior Trinity Model:
This model is designed to absorb the energy from impact and then dissipate the energy. The horizontal brace was designed to knock down the posts at the W-beam and cause the rail to peel back into what looks like a sheet of steel ribbon.
Current Trinity ET-Plus Model:
Trinity has decreased the dimensions in five areas of their manufacture of the ET-Plus Model.
The lawsuit contends that these decreases in specifications serve to make the guardrails serve as projectiles, impaling vehicles and owners upon impact. Exit gate and feeder channel dimension changes appear to, from the diagram, hamper the ability of the horizontal brace to impact the block above the W-beams. It is inferred by the diagram that a ‘throat lock’ would take place and instead of the rail ribboning as expected, it would maintain its shape and pierce the vehicle.
Highway safety is enforced by the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) which had approved prior guardrail system versions. Emails from the FHA suggest that they were not privy to nor had they approved the structural changes implemented by Trinity Industries. In fact, they claim to not have been made aware of the changes until seven years after the systems were already in use across the country.
Spokespersons for Trinity Industries contend that their ET-Plus system is safe and that it was successfully crash tested according to normal protocol and the integrity of the system is sound.
It has not been suggested that the guardrails involved in these incidents are Trinity ET-Plus rails. These are just examples of the prevalence of these types of accidents and threat posed when a vehicle comes into contact with railing systems that are unable to withstand the pressure of impact and do not work as intended.
It can’t be disputed that our highways have become safer over the years. Protocols, products, and processes have all lent to our collective feeling of security. Most of the measures in place may not prevent accidents, but lessen the effects of the damage caused by an accident.
In the case of guardrails, it is expected that they are durable and properly constructed and help motorists avoid running off the road or colliding with traffic in opposite lanes. The case against Trinity has such a deep range because of the high number of Trinity systems in use both nationally and internationally. As the case continues, more information will come available.
At Steinger, Iscoe & Greene, it is our hope that if it is found that a design flaw is leading to these injuries and fatalities, that a solution is found to replace or retrofit the existing systems so additional families aren’t harmed while travelling the highway systems. If you or a loved one has been the victim of an accident and you want to discuss you options with a caring advocate, Steinger, Iscoe & Greene is just one call away.