Ends of guardrails claimed to be unsafe for drivers

Metal impales cars in several instances


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – They're designed to keep drivers safe, but new questions are being raised about guardrails along Florida highways.

Family after family are coming forward after accidents, saying the guardrails are failing and making accidents worse.

News4Jax has uncovered a state investigation into the guardrails found along Interstates 10 and 95.

Traffic experts say the guardrails simply don't work. It's not the rail thats the actual problem. It's the guardrail end.

When a car hits this end, the guardrail is supposed to buckle and cushion the impact of the vehicle. But in several instances, the metal has impaled the car.

"As horrible as ours was, we were the lucky ones. We still have each other," said Luke Robinson.

Robinson calls his experience a brush with death along a Virginia highway. The guardrail his family crashed into ripped through their car, breaking his son's pelvis and nearly killing the entire family.

"Once I realized what the guardrail had done instead of what it was supposed to do, I mean, we were horrified," Robinson said.

A test conducted in 1999 shows a Trinity Industries ET-Plus guardrail in action. A truck slams the front of the guardrail, and the rail curls away like a steel ribbon. That's what is supposed to happen.

"This is a work of art. This actually works perfectly," said Joshua Harman, who's at the center of a whistle-blower lawsuit against the company.

Harman said Trinity's original design was recently changed by the company. He said Trinity changed key dimensions of the ET-Plus guardrail, reducing its width from 5 to 4 inches.

Harman had documented dozens of crashes like the Robinsons'.

"These things are a death trap," he said. "I've said that from the get-go and I'll continue to say it."

There are two ET-Plus guardrails along I-10 in Jacksonville within one mile of each other. The Department of Transportation couldn't provide News4Jax with an exact count of how many are on local roads.

Harman said the guardrail ends are too small, and when hit, the head locks up. The guardrails stop flowing away from the car and instead form a spear, sometimes piercing the vehicle at impact.

Drivers want the state to investigate these claims thoroughly.

"I think whoever made them or said it's going to protect someone should compensate the people's family," driver Brian Conklin said.

"If they don't want to fix it and the people aren't responsible, then the FDOT should fix it," driver Joel Sussman said.

Trinity issued this statement: "Trinity has a high degree of confidence in the performance in integrity of the ET-Plus system, which we are proud to manufacture and sell. The false and misleading allegations being made by Mr. Harmon were reviewed by the Federal Highway Administration, which reaffirmed its acceptance of the ET-Plus system."

A federal judge is expected to take up the case in court next week. FDOT is not commenting.

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