The Iowa Department of Transportation is not planning to pull out special ends put on guardrails that are the focus of a Texas lawsuit until they get more information from federal transportation officials. DOT director of traffic safety, Steve Gent, says the piece of guardrail in question is called the E-T-Plus end treatment.
“It’s really a device that’s probably about six feet long and it fits on the end of a W-beam guardrail, so that’s why it’s called an end treatment,” according to Gent. “In Iowa the first ones were installed in about 2010 and we think we have just over a thousand of those in the state at this time.”
A Texas jury awarded a $175-million judgment in federal lawsuit against the maker of the device, Trinity Industries, over the company’s alleged failure to report design changes. The changes allegedly can cause the guardrail to go through a car and several states have banned the end treatment.
Gent says the Iowa DOT has not reason to remove them yet. “It’s important to note with these that the Federal Highway Administration has said all along that these are safe. Currently because of the lawsuit that’s been filed, the Federal Highway Administration is asking that states for safety and crash information,” Gent says. “We’ve provided that to the Federal Highway Administration. And at this point, we have seen no issues regarding safety.”
He says an accident with these devices is rare in our state. “An average end terminal gets hit one out of every 40 years, so on average these things are in place a long time before they are hit,” Gent says. “So, the fact that Iowa has about a thousand of these out there, it’s pretty typical that we wouldn’t have very many hits against them yet, but there have been some and there haven’t been any significant injuries — they’ve performed well so far in Iowa.”
Gent says this end treatment was created to reduce accident caused by the old system. “Years ago they used to bury the end of a guardrail and then vehicles would hit that and then vault up and they would actually go flying through the air, and there have been different systems,” Gent says. “Today what they try to do is put a blunt end on the end of the barrier…it really functions like a crash attenuator.” The blunt end is pushed forward and the guard rail slowly bends to absorb the impact of the crash. Federal officials have asked for a new round of crash tests in the wake of the lawsuit.