Some Highway Guardrails May be Deadly in Accidents

The New York Times reports that faulty guardrails may be responsible for at least five deaths, and many injuries, in at least 14 accidents across the US.

The injuries and deaths allegedly resulted when the guardrail heads malfunctioned, turning the guardrails into spears that pierced vehicles rather than protecting the occupants.

Missouri, Nevada, and Massachusetts have temporarily banned further purchases of the guardrails for state roads.

Lawsuits have been filed, but both the Federal Highway Administration and the guardrail manufacturer claim that the rails are safe.

However, an internal memo from the highway administration shows that a senior engineer for the agency expressed concerns about the safety of the guardrails before approving their continued use two years ago.

The highway administration drafted a letter to the guardrail manufacturer asking for more safety testing, but never sent the letter for unknown reasons.

Federal law allows states to use federal funding to pay for the guardrails.

Problems apparently date to 2005, when the manufacturer made a change in the guardrail design.

The new design reduced the width of the steel channel behind the rail head by one inch, from five inches to four.Instead of sliding along the rail, which is supposed to collapse like an accordion and curl out of the way of a car, the rail head can jam.A jammed guardrail then can become a spear that can pierce the side of a vehicle – and injure the passengers.

Design changes are supposed to be submitted in advance to the Federal Highway Administration, but this apparently didn’t happen.

The change was only discovered via a circuitous route:the guardrail company sued a rival manufacturer for patent infringement in 2011.The rival then learned of the design changes and reported them to the government engineer.

The news show 20/20 has also reported on the guardrail investigation.

If you’ve been injured in an accident, contact an experienced personal injury attorney at the New Jersey Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Hasson, P.C. for help.

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