KNOXVILLE (WATE) – WATE 6 On Your Side has been investigating possibly fatal guardrail devices for the last month. First we found out there are more than 10,000 on Tennessee highways. Now we know they’re on our city and county streets as well.
A whistleblower explained how the end terminals could fail in a crash, possibly with deadly results. If you hit the end of a guardrail in a crash, the end terminal is designed to absorb the energy of your car, slowing it down and feeding the rail out the side. However, Trinity Industries, one of the biggest distributors in the country, made a design change in the ET-Plus model a decade ago without telling the Federal Highway Administration.
Previous story: Whistleblower says guardrails in Tennessee could be fatal
An industry expert is now saying that change has resulted in more than 40 fatalities, including some in East Tennessee.
“It can redirect the vehicle. It can allow the vehicle straight through into the very hazard it’s supposed to be protecting the car from. It can flip the car, ejecting the occupants or anything, crushing the compartment. The guardrail can literally impale the vehicle, go through the car,” said guardrail engineer Joshua Harman.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation pulled the product from the approved devices list so they can’t be installed in the future, but didn’t pass along any of the investigation information or safety concerns to local agencies. Now Knox County and Knoxville city engineers like Jim Hagerman say they’re waiting on a new recommendation.
Previous story: Knox County has dozens of possibly fatal guardrail devices
WATE 6 On Your Side asked the city of Knoxville how many ET-Plus terminals are on city streets, but officials didn’t know. They weren’t even sure if Knoxville had the possibly dangerous end terminal in question because they are installed through contractors. So now, the city is doing an inventory, going through work orders to see how many of these are.
“Well I think we’re like a lot of the other agencies around. We’re not going to put anymore in. And partly we’re not going to put any in because they’re not on the TDOT approved list anymore,” said Hagerman.
Hagerman said areas in the city with lower speed limits are less of a risk.
“A lot of lower speed crashes, you just need something that’s blunt so that the end of the guardrail doesn’t easily penetrate the vehicle,” he said.
Nashville is replacing all its ET-Plus terminals. Jim Hagerman guesses there are less than 100 on Knoxville streets and so far, he has no plans to remove them.
“Unless they’re clearly defective and there’s a recall on them, it’s hard to say that we’re going to go back and replace them,” said Hagerman.
The city says it will be after the first of the year when they know exactly how many of these devices are on Knoxville roads and where they’re located.