A report in yesterday’s Oregonian details problems with a common type of guardrail used throughout the country, along with the disappointing revelation that Oregon will not follow the lead of at least three other states and move to replace the rails. This, despite evidence linking them to “grisly deaths and severed limbs” in car crashes around the country.
The guardrails in question are “fitted with so-called ‘ET-Plus’ energy absorbing impact plates on the end… Guardrails with end plates are supposed to lessen the severity of a crash, by absorbing the initial energy while shifting the vehicle to ride down the rail without deflecting back into traffic.” The newspaper reports, however, that a study by The Safety Institute found that a design introduced by the rails’ manufacturer in 2005 and now in widespread use “was 1.36 times more likely to produce a severe injury and 2.86 times more likely to produce a fatality” than the original design.
The article goes on to note that lawsuits in five states “have blamed ET-Plus guardrails for at least four deaths and nine severe injuries.” As a result, Nevada, Missouri and Massachusetts have “suspended use of the barriers.” According to the newspaper, however, Oregon’s DOT plans to keep using them partly because no problems have been reported in our state but also because “even if ODOT wanted to replace its ET-Plus barriers on Oregon highways, the agency wouldn’t know where to start. The agency has apparently lost track of where they’re installed.”
Reading that last sentence it is difficult to decide which part is more troubling. As a Portland car crash attorney I would hope that ODOT was sufficiently aware of safety situations in other states that it did not have to wait for similar problems to arise here in Oregon before acting. It is perhaps more troubling, however, to learn that replacing the rails may not be possible because appropriate records are not being maintained by the ODOT itself.
This story is only a day old, but it seems sure to develop further in the weeks and months to come. I will be keeping a close eye on this, and related developments to see whether media exposure succeeds in moving the ODOT toward both a more forward-looking policy and better record-keeping systems.
The Oregonian: Oregon DOT: No plans to remove ‘sharp spear’ guardrails tied to deaths, severed limbs