Study Calls for More Oversight for Guardrail Safety Testing

A government watchdog group claims federal highway officials aren’t doing enough to protect drivers from guardrails that have been linked to deaths and injuries across the country.

The new report released by the Government Accountability Office comes more than two years after the NBC 6 Investigators first reported on the problem.

The report criticizes the process used to test guardrails and urges the Federal Highway Administration to make sure there are no conflicts of interest between the workers who test the devices and the companies who make them.

It all revolves around a type of guardrail called the ET Plus, a popular brand that lines highways across South Florida.  In the case of an accident, the metal is designed to peel away from a vehicle, causing the driver to slow down and stop safety.  However, critics say it can do the opposite and pierce vehicles like a spear, impaling drivers and passengers.

The guardrails have been linked to more than a dozen deaths and injuries across the country, including in Florida.

The new report claims there are potential problems with the testing process of safety devices like guardrails.  After a year long investigation, the government group found testing to be well documented and thorough but that there is a lack of “oversight” and no “process for formally verifying the testing outcomes.”  The report recommends the Federal Highway Administration use a third party verification for testing.   Plus, some of the labs authorized to do safety tests are actually testing products developed by workers of their parent organizations which could be a conflict of interest. To read the full report, click here.

The Federal Highway Administration released a statement to the NBC 6 Investigators stating they welcome the government review and they’re working to put the recommendations into the place. 

The full statement is as follows:

"FHWA welcomes the GAO’s review of the roadside safety hardware process, and as noted in our GAO response, we will work to implement the recommendations in the report. As GAO noted, FHWA is currently undergoing an independent review of the roadside hardware eligibility process and we look forward to those additional recommendations as well.  Over the past 18 months, FHWA has made a series of improvements to the roadside hardware eligibility process to improve safety.  We have worked with our state partners to accelerate the transition to the next generation of safety devices and will continue that collaboration to monitor progress.  We have required additional financial disclosure from labs and the companies submitting hardware to be tested.  Further, we will work to implement the  GAO’s recommendations to strengthen the independence of the testing labs and develop a process for third-party review of crash-test results. We encourage anyone interested in this process to read the GAO report and draw their own conclusions."

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