The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) earlier this month said the controversial Trinity guardrails that were at the center of a whistleblower lawsuit have passed all new safety tests, but a U.S. Senator is challenging the agency’s stance.
Last year, the FHWA ordered Trinity’s ET-Plus guardrail system to undergo a series of eight tests conducted by a laboratory in San Antonio, Texas. The agency ordered the tests after whistleblower Joshua Harman won the whistleblower lawsuit he filed against Trinity under the False Claims Act.
Mr. Harman alleged that Trinity secretly altered the design of the guardrails’ end terminals to save money, and that those changes often turned the devices into giant spears that sometimes impaled vehicles and their occupants.
A federal jury in Texas agreed with Mr. Harman’s allegations and the court ordered Trinity to pay the U.S. $175 million in restitution, which would automatically triple to $525 million under the terms of the False Claims Act. That’s when the FHWA ordered the new tests.
The tests were completed in February. While the guardrails offered the expected protection in most of the tests, outside experts retained by the lawyers for Joshua Harman questioned whether the devices passed the last set of tests. Damage done to the test vehicle by the guardrail was similar to other previous failed tests.
Senator Blumenthal had already issued a statement criticizing the FHWA’s ruling, noting that FHWA needed “a new set of eyes” for its oversight and testing.
On Monday, he followed up his assertions with a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, urging the Department of Transportation to review the FHWA’s opinion.
“The FHWA’s effort several days ago to deem these devices as safe appears to be the agency’s latest attempt to absolve itself for years of inaction. I urge your office to take over this matter so the public can finally know if these products can kill and maim motorists as so many claim,” Mr. Blumenthal wrote. The letter continues:
“We need to know whether ET-Plus devices – like any federally approved and underwritten roadside hardware – are safe. The FHWA has failed in this mission, focusing more on minimizing its own failings and, unconvincingly, continuing to stand by the devices and the manufacturer.
“Until this effort is complete and the many unanswered questions are addressed, I urge you to consider revoking the eligibility letter for the ET-Plus while testing under current, rigorous standards is performed. This will allow federal taxpayers to rest assured their money isn’t going to buy potentially deadly and destructive devices.”