Virginia Plans to Remove Guardrails Blamed for Injuries, Deaths

PHOTO: In a wreck in North Carolina, a guardrail pierced the car of N.C. man Jay Traylor, severing his legs.PlayLaw Enforcement Officials
WATCH Verdict Is In: Guardrail Company Defrauded Government

Virginia is the first state to announce it plans to physically remove from its highways a controversial guardrail system blamed by accident victims for injuries and deaths across the country. The move comes after Trinity Industries, the manufacturer of the ET-Plus system, failed to meet a deadline to submit a plan to conduct new crash tests for the system.

“The Virginia Department of Transportation is currently putting together a plan for removal,” Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) spokesperson Marshall Herman told ABC News today.

The company was notified of the action in a letter sent by VDOT on Friday, addressed to Trinity Highway Products president Gregory Mitchell. The letter states that if the ET-Plus is removed from its roadways, Virginia will also seek reimbursement of the cost to do so.

Herman said there is no finalized timeline to remove the end terminals, and should Trinity provide data proving the ET-Plus meets safety criteria, it will reconsider the recall.

Trinity Industries told ABC News in a statement that it is “moving expeditiously to initiate” crash tests that had been previously requested by the state. VDOT had given Trinity until last Friday to submit plans for crash tests of the ET-Plus and had, in the meantime, removed the end terminal from the state’s purchasing list. The company had requested postponement of the deadline.

“We do not believe it would be appropriate for any state to remove a product that has met all test previously requested by Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and continues to remain eligible for federal reimbursement,” Trinity’s statement read.

Thirteen states, including Virginia, said they have decided to halt installation of the guardrail system. Most recently Trinity’s home state of Texas announced today it is “discontinuing the use of these systems for new installations until further notice." Virginia is the first to say it will pull existing guardrails from the roadside.

Virginia’s announcement came a week after a jury in Texas found that guardrail maker Trinity Industries had defrauded the government by altering the guardrail end terminal design nearly a decade ago and failing to disclose all of the changes to federal officials as required. Trinity, which plans to appeal the decision, was ordered to pay $175 million in damages – an amount that is expected to triple by statutory mandate.

The modified guardrail, dubbed by Trinity 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 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.

According to an internal email obtained by ABC News, a company official estimated one particular change – reducing a piece of metal in the guardrail end terminal from five inches to four – would save the company $2 per guardrail, or $50,000 per year.

Late last week Trinity announced it would no longer sell the ET-Plus “until the additional testing has been completed.”

“We have confidence in the ET-Plus system as designed and crash tested by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute,” Gregg Mitchell, President of Trinity Highway Products, said in a press release then. “It has met all tests previously requested by the FHWA [Federal Highway Administration]. We take the safety of the products we manufacture very seriously.”

Trinity said it would work with the FHWA on further crash testing.