DelDOT bans controversial guardrail cap

 This ET Plus guardrail head is now banned in Delaware. (photo courtesy Trinity Highway Products)

This ET Plus guardrail head is now banned in Delaware. (photo courtesy Trinity Highway Products)

Delaware joined 27 other states that have banned the future use of a guardrail end treatment currently under scrutiny due to safety concerns.

The Delaware Department of Transportation made the announcement late last week.

“This decision applies to all current and future construction contract and maintenance activities statewide,” said Robert McCleary, DelDOT’s chief engineer, in a letter to personnel and contractors working on the state’s roads. 

The product, called the ET-Plus guardrail head, is a rectangular metal cap that fits over the end of metal guardrails commonly installed along roads and highways. They’re intended to reduce the severity of crashes when a vehicle hits the end of a guardrail.

Dallas-based Trinity Highway Products manufactured the cap, one of several products approved for use nationwide by the Federal Highway Administration. However, on Oct. 20. a federal jury in Texas found that Trinity defrauded the federal government by making a cost-cutting design change without alerting federal regulators. A whistle-blower alleged the change had been in place for years and compromised the cap’s integrity.

Victims’ lawsuits alleged the modified end treatments created a design flaw turning the guardrail into a spear upon impact. The jury ordered the company to pay $175 million.

The FHWA instructed Trinity Industries to re-test its guardrail caps. The company has suspended production and sale of its product until further safety crash tests are performed.

McCleary’s letter said the ban will remain in effect until it’s determined that the product meets appropriate standards of performance at the national level.

“In addition to the ban on all new installations of Trinity’s ET Plus system, DelDOT has initiated a review of all 2,101 guardrail end treatment attenuator, Type 1, devices in its inventory,” McCleary said.

DelDOT said its traffic division is in the process of reviewing crash data back to 2005 to determine if any accidents involved the poor performance of the guardrail head. DelDOT said because its contractors who install or repair guardrails are not required to specify the use of specific products, it is unaware of exactly how many Trinity ET-Plus guardrail heads may be in use.

Of the 6,248 guardrail heads of various types in use throughout Delaware, 2,101 are of the Type 1 guardrail head design, which would include the Trinity ET-Plus product. DelDOT said it has begun reviewing its inventory to determine how many of these are the Trinity ET-Plus product and where they are located.

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