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Are Guardrails Dangerous?

Safety metal guardrail on a rural roadsideGuardrails on the nation’s roads are installed to keep motorists safe. But are they doing their job? Could it be that guardrails, instead of keeping motorists safe, could actually harm them?

Guardrails can harm motorists

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. While many guardrails operate well and prevent motorists from going over the edge of highways or lanes, some types have proved to be lethal. A specific type, the ET-Plus, was redesigned several years ago in a manner that transformed it into something like a spear, capable of cutting off limbs and causing major injuries in southern California and other locales.

How? Well, guardrails are specifically designed to give way on impact, so they don’t cause harm. The redesign of the ET-Plus resulted in elimination of that flexibility. Impact caused the material to break into gigantic shards, which were composed of hard material. In multiple accidents nationwide, limbs were cut off and piercing injuries were caused by the shards.

Observers estimate that the ET-Plus redesign that caused these types of injuries increased fatalities on the nation’s roads by two to three times those of previous designs.

Observers believed that there may be up to half a million of these guardrails installed in California as of 2014. CalTrans does not track types of guardrails, so has no data on the number or position.

Most worrisome of all, perhaps, the design changes were considered minor and did not require approval from either California state or Federal authorities. How many other design changes unexpectedly harm motorists?

In some cases, a highway protection device doesn’t protect. It actively harms.

Poorly constructed guardrails can be hazards

Yet another issue making guardrails dangerous stems from their materials. Wooden and metal guardrails can both potentially be too flimsy to serve their purpose. Ideally, a guardrail will prevent an accident by making sure a car doesn’t go over a lane. The best design will halt the movement of vehicles when they are struck, but be elastic enough not to damage the vehicle or passengers.

But weak materials like wood and metal may simply buckle under the impact of a vehicle. They may also break and become highway debris, which potentially makes road conditions unsafe.

This is particularly true if the material has not been maintained well. Wood and metal can both erode significantly in certain weather conditions if they have not been properly chosen and regularly inspected.

Another factor can be the placement of guardrails. Concrete guardrails will damage any vehicle that hits them and can cause significant injuries and death to motorists. The placement should make it difficult to hit them. Roadway design must be sufficient to ensure that they can’t easily cause harm.

Need an auto accident lawyer in southern California?

Dangerous guardrails can cause serious auto accidents. If you or a loved one has been involved in a vehicle accident where a guardrail caused injury or death, talk to us today. The Salamati Law Firm has an excellent record of obtaining justice for clients in auto accidents and other vehicle injuries throughout the Los Angeles region.

Call an experienced Los Angeles auto accident attorney today at 888-259-4060. We will provide a consultation at no charge. Payment will come from any final jury award or settlement amount.

Additional “guardrail dangers” resources:

  1. Bartley, Lisa and Dave Kunz. “Eyewitness News Investigates: Dangerous Guardrails?” KABC. September 30, 2014. http://abc7.com/news/eyewitness-news-investigates-dangerous-guardrails/330110/
  2. Lee, Patrick G. “On the Road: Are America’s Guardrails Dangerous?” Insurance Journal. June 13, 2014. http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2014/06/13/331760.htm
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