Even before the official government conclusions have been issued, Sen. Richard Blumenthal is calling the video of a guardrail safety test “hideously shocking.”
“The damage done to the driver’s side is very simply supposed to not happen and so that final test is deeply disturbing and gives me strong reason to say there ought to be more testing,” Blumenthal, D-Conn., told ABC News today.
Blumenthal was reacting to helicopter-shot video of a guardrail safety test conducted late last month in Texas, where the safety of Trinity Industries’ ET-Plus guardrail system – a system used on many roads across the country -- is under the microscope.
The government ordered eight crash tests after Trinity was found late last year to have committed fraud when it modified the guardrail end terminal a decade ago but failed to tell state or federal officials about the change at the time. Accident victims and critics say the modified guardrail end terminal can malfunction when struck from the front, sending pieces of metal through the car and potentially killing or dismembering its occupants.
The government said the ET-Plus system passed its first four crash tests, but it has not released the results of the last four. It’s the very last one, the eighth, that has proved controversial already after critics said the crash appeared to severely damage the driver’s side of the car. Trinity, however, disputes what it calls conclusions made far too early.
“You can’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t judge a crash test by pictures,” Jeff Eller, a Trinity spokesperson, told ABC News in the company’s first on-camera interview since ABC News started investigating the controversial guardrail last fall. “You’ve got to wait until all the data is analyzed, until it is looked at. Until you do that, you’re basically just making it up.”
Per the terms of the government’s agreement with Trinity on the crash tests, media was not allowed to take pictures on the ground during the crash tests, which is why early reactions on the test are based on aerial imagery from ABC News affiliate KSAT in San Antonio and on reports from inside the testing. ABC News producer Tonya Kerr was present for the tests, including the final one.
“It was a significant impact and it looked like substantial damage compared to tests in the past,” Kerr said of the eighth test.
Kerr said she was told there was no “intrusion,” meaning the guardrail did not pierce the vehicle – the alleged recurring problem described by real life accident victims.
The controversy over the final test has already sparked a battle between expert witnesses from either side of the Texas case – one accident expert who said it appears the test was a “clear failure” and another who said the first expert’s assertion was “premature, scientifically unsound and irresponsible.”
“It’s too soon to tell,” Eller said, echoing Trinity’s expert witness. “The data has to go to the Federal Highway Administration. They’ve got to take a look at it. They’re the ones who will make the final determination. And until then, anything other than waiting on that is nothing but pure speculation.”
That’s what state departments of transportation across the nation are doing now: waiting. More than half the states in the country have stopped installing ET-Plus guardrail systems on their roads and many said they are awaiting the results of the tests to see if they’ll be ripping out the ones that are already there.
Trinity has maintained that their guardrail system is safe and has noted that it was approved by the FHWA after questions were raised about the modifications in 2012. The company has also indicated it will appeal the fraud judgment against it.