America's Guardrail Safety Scare Goes International

VIDEO: Two States Suspend New Guardrail UsePlayABCNews.com
WATCH Verdict Is In: Guardrail Company Defrauded Government

A Canadian province has joined more than half of U.S. states in suspending the installation of a controversial guardrail system linked to severed limbs and deaths in auto accidents, as reported in a recent ABC News investigation.

Transportation officials in the province of Quebec announced the suspension today, as well as an investigation into the approximately 4,500 ET-Plus guardrails currently installed in the province.

In America more than 30 states have already suspended the installation of the ET-Plus system, made by Texas-based Trinity Industries. Last month Trinity was found by a Texas jury to have defrauded the government after it changed the design of the guardrail’s end terminal back in 2005 and failed to tell federal or state transportation officials until questions were raised in 2012.

"Since the judgment, [Quebec's Transportation Ministry] has decided, as a precaution, to remove the device from the list of approved products and to temporarily stop installing it," a statement from the ministry said. "This precautionary measure will remain in effect until the safety device successfully passes the new crash tests requested by the [U.S.] Federal Highway Administration."

The ET-Plus System was the subject of an ABC News "20/20" investigation in September that looked into allegations from crash victims that the modified guardrail can malfunction when struck from the front by their vehicles. Rather than ribboning out and absorbing the impact as designed, the guardrails "locked up" and speared straight through the cars, severing the motorists' limbs in some cases.

One modification made in 2005, slimming a piece of metal in the end terminal from five inches to four, was estimated to save the company $2 per guardrail end terminal, or $50,000 per year, according to an internal Trinity email obtained by ABC News.

After the Texas verdict, the U.S. FHWA ordered Trinity to conduct new crash tests on the guardrail end terminals – 200,000 of which are estimated to be on American highways – to prove they are safe. Trinity has maintained the guardrails function properly and noted that the FHWA approved them for use even after allegations of misconduct surfaced in 2012.

The FHWA announced Wednesday it had accepted Trinity’s plan to re-test the devices at a facility in San Antonio. While Trinity said it was “pleased” that the FHWA accepted their plan, critics, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal, were concerned the FHWA had accepted a plan that could allow Trinity to “game the system.”

“I am very concerned that the testing protocol you’ve prescribed is woefully inadequate and far too deferential to Trinity,” Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a letter to FHWA Acting Administrator Gregory Nadeau.

In announcing the testing plan, Nadeau said the new crash tests were “only one action among several efforts we’re undertaking on behalf of the American driving public.”

“Our work to protect American motorists doesn't end with the re-testing of the ET-Plus,” he said.

In response to Quebec's announcement, Trinity told ABC News the company would "work with the province to fully understand their respective concerns."

"Engaging with them with the goal of safety is a priority for Trinity," Lisa Singleton, a representative for the company said. "It is important to us that roads are safe for drivers. We have the highest degree of confidence in our company, our employees, and the performance and integrity of our products."

Representatives for other Canadian provinces were not immediately available to comment on Quebec’s announcement.