RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Virginia will begin crash testing a controversial guardrail system this week.
The Commonwealth is suing the makers for changing the design of the system without warning Virginia.
The crash testing starts on Thursday at Karco Engineering LLC, an independent automotive and safety testing facility in Adelanto, California. The Virginia Department of Transportation says the testing will happen over 6 days.
These guardrail end treatments in question passed federal tests this year, but VDOT says it is moving forward with its own testing.
The guardrails are made by Trinity Industries. They're called ET plus guardrails and there are thousands of them on Virginia roads.
These guardrails are at the center of several lawsuits across the country. Victims claim they pierce the vehicles causing severe injuries rather than peeling away in a crash.
Trinity was also found guilty of committing fraud for secretly changing the design of the product after it was already approved. Trinity says it will appeal that verdict. The company has maintained its innocence from the beginning and says its product has
performed as designed and is now the most tested product on the market.
VDOT says it is collecting data during these crash tests to help it decide it the guardrails need to be removed from Virginia's roads. In a statement VDOT said, "VDOT is in the process of collecting data on the modified ET-Plus. Part of the data collection process is conducting crash tests. Virginia is performing the crash tests for the sole purpose of trying to make sure that we do the very best that we can to make our highways as safe as possible. This information will be evaluated in addition to other data, including crash test information from the Federal Highway Administration and field data collected on Virginia's state maintained roads. The agency will also review any field information collected from other state departments of transportation and agencies. The testing is for data collection only.
In 2000, VDOT approved the use of ET-Plus in Virginia. In 2005, Trinity made a modification to ET-Plus that changed the product dimensions from 5" channels to 4" channels. The modified ET-Plus is a different product than what was approved by VDOT in 2000 and is therefore not approved for use on Virginia roadways. VDOT was not aware of the product alteration until 2013 and has since been reviewing the ET-Plus and requesting additional information from Trinity. Trinity Industries has not yet applied for the modified ET-Plus to be placed on VDOT's approved products list.
In the fall of 2014, contractors were told that the modified version of ET-Plus should not be used on any new state projects under contract. Construction companies under contract to work on VDOT projects need to use a product on VDOT's approved list.
A spokesperson for Trinity says, "VDOT's plan to test only the ET-Plus system using arbitrary and non standard tests is being done to support its litigation agenda with the specific intent to make the product appear to fail. If VDOT truly shares Trinity's advocacy for safety and intends to do more testing, the right thing to do is to test all comparable end terminals on Virginia road ways, using the same testing standards applied to the ET-Plus."
VDOT is and has been replacing any damaged ET-Plus guardrail end treatments with approved products.
VDOT continues to gather data to make informed decisions on guardrail end terminals moving forward."
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