Highway guardrails have led to tremendous safety improvements when they work properly. They can prevent rollover accidents and keep drivers from crossing over into oncoming traffic, both of which are some of the most serious types of traffic accidents. However, there has been much concern that certain guardrails that have been installed across the country may actually do more harm than good. The issue relates to the end cap used on certain guardrails, which may cause the guardrail to buckle under the force of the impact and create a spike that can pierce the front of the car. Numerous accident victims nationwide have experienced these issues firsthand, resulting in fatalities and lost limbs from the sharp, metal posts.
The Technology in Question
Guardrail end caps are pieces installed on the front of guardrails to protect drivers who crash into them. Without properly functioning end caps, the sharp end of the guardrail could puncture the cab, injuring drivers. The end caps are a complex piece of safety technology that accomplish two tasks at once.
First, as the accident occurs, there is a flat slot in the cap. The force of the car pushes the guardrail through the slot, flattening it out from a stiff metal rod into a more flexible ribbon that cannot pierce the vehicle. At the same time, a blade on the back of the cap uses the accident’s force to dislodge the posts holding the guardrail into the ground, making it easier to move and less likely to puncture the car. Working versions of these end caps have been approved by the Federal Highway Administration and were installed nationwide.
The Fatal Flaw
The issue with the end caps began, as it often does, with cost-cutting. The company that manufactures the end caps began looking for a way to make a cheaper version of them. The first time around, the drive for cost-effectiveness worked perfectly. They produced an equally safe, cheaper end cap. However, the next set of upgrades caused a problem. The slot that flattens out the guardrail was reduced in size. This made it more difficult for the rail to fit through, and in some instances caused the rails to jam. If the rail jams, it does not flatten. Instead, it folds over itself and turns into a sharp point, capable of punching its way through the car that it was originally supposed to be protecting.
Serious traffic accidents can be emotionally difficult experiences. Fortunately, people do not have to be alone during this trying period. If you or one of your loved ones was hurt in a traffic accident, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer in Memphis, TN today to learn more about your rights as an accident victim.
Thanks to Patterson Bray for their insight into personal injury claims and car accidents involving highway guard rails.