I-TEAM UPDATE: New study blasts guardrail safety regulators

Dan Noyes Image
Friday, July 8, 2016
New study blasts guardrail safety regulators
EMBED <>More Videos

A report out Thursday blasts federal highway regulators for failing to protect the public from a guardrail system that's been linked to injuries and deaths across California and the nation. This newly released report comes three years after the ABC7 News I-Team first investigated.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Guardrails along our highways are there to protect motorists in a crash and save lives, but some have done more harm than good.

Now, three years after ABC7 I-Team Reporter Dan Noyes first exposed problems with some guardrails, an independent non-partisan watchdog is blasting federal regulators for failing to protect the public from a guardrail system that's been linked to injuries and deaths across California.

This report from the Government Accounting Office (GAO) says the Federal Highway Safety Administration is not doing enough to address problems with dangerous guardrails.

The GAO urges "more robust Department of Transportation oversight of guardrails".

One lawmaker pushing for improvements is Mark DeSaulnierfrom Contra Costa County.

The ABC7 I-Team's Dan Noyes asked him why he pushed for the GAO study.

"Actually, it started with your investigatory, your reporting," Congressman DeSaulniersaid.

ABC7 brought the issue to DeSaulnier three years ago as complaints about an end unit guardrail system called the "ET-Plus" were piling up nationwide.

It is supposed to slow a car down by letting the guardrail peel away. But lawsuits filed after crashes across the country allege the ET-PLUS can lock up and cause the guardrail to pierce the car or kick off to the side allowing the car to continue on.

That appears to be what happened to Bay Area football star Darryl Blackmon in November 2014. His Chrysler Sebring hit a sign post on 101 North at Mill Valley. The car flipped and landed upside down.

Florence Blackmon, Darryl's mother said, "He should not have been taken away in that, I mean if you fell asleep at the wheel, fine, but that equipment should've stopped that car."

The GAO report finds states have been slow to install "devices successfully tested to updated improved crash test standards".

The report also questions "the integrity of the crash-testing process...where lab employees test devices that were developed within their parent organization."

And the GAO recommends more of a focus on real-world crash data and is calling for "a process for third-party verification of results from crash-test labs".

Representative DeSaulnier was frank in his assessment of the results of the GAO study.

"So that part of the report I think is particularly appalling that we don't respond quick enough and in my experience during this investigation both in the State Senate and in Congress', both the US DOT and California DOT was not responsive enough," DeSaulnier said.

A Caltrans spokesperson says they have placed a moratorium on the installation of ET-Plus end units but there are approximately 3600 still on our highways according to an inventory they did in 2014.

As crashes, maintenance issues or new projects emerge Caltrans replaces the units.

The spokesman said they are not unsafe.

At the spot where Darryl Blackmon died, a car has hit the end unit again but it wasn't an ET-Plus and experts say it appeared to have functioned properly.

Darryl Blackmon's family is suing Caltrans, the manufacturer of the ET-Plus and the State of California. DeSaulnier expects it to be a multi-million dollar pay out.

"We need to have to get the system fixed so that people don't get injured, lose their lives and that the taxpayers are protected against liability," said Congressman Desaulnier.


Click here for more investigative stories by the I-Team.