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Feds call for tougher standards for 'next generation' of guardrails

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The Federal Highway Safety Administration announced its task force is calling for tougher safety standards for "the next generation" of guardrails on our roads.

An agency press release stated data suggested guardrail end terminals made by several different manufacturers experienced performance limitations in certain impact and installation scenarios.

"These limitations have led the task force to make several recommendations, including implementation of next generation of guardrail terminal crash test criteria for new installations," the agency stated.

The call for tougher standards comes after months of controversy surrounding a guardrail end terminal manufactured by Trinity Industries.

A whistleblower alleged the ET-Plus guardrail terminal was secretly changed to a smaller version that malfunctioned to save costs. He sued the guardrail giant over failing to disclose the design change and won a jury verdict earlier this year.

"The jury found they committed fraud in the whole procurement of the approval of the ET-Plus," whistleblower Joshua Harman said.

Trinity Industries plans to appeal and has stood by its product, saying it's "confident" in the ET-Plus and pointed out it passed all Federal crash tests – both before and after the verdict.

But Virginia state officials appear to have a different viewpoint than the federal government, arguing Trinity really has "failed crash tests."

"Virginia has not documented a single incident on our highways as of this date where any other product, other than the unapproved, modified ET PLUS, has been involved in a collision where it is arguable or even suspect that the product failed," Virginia's Senior Assistant Attorney General/Chief Richard McGrath wrote in a letter to Trinity.

Unlike Virginia, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has not joined in any legal action against Trinity, however, a Bondi spokesman told News 6 Friday the Trinity "matter is still under active review."

The announcement by FHWA did not sit well with the whistleblower and his attorney, who believe the guardrails with "limitations" should be recalled.

"FHWA admits that the fraudulently sold, modified ET-Plus has performance problems, but rather than recalling the product, the agency expects taxpayers to sacrifice their lives and limbs in accidents until the modified ET-Plus is recalled by attrition rather than action," said Harman's attorney, Steven Lawrence.

Harman was also disappointed.

"Instead of fixing the problem, FHWA is kicking the can down the road at the expense of the traveling public's safety," Harman said.

News 6 tried reaching out to Florida Department of Transportation officials to find out what the FHWA announcement would mean for Floridians, but FDOT did not respond.

Trinity released a statement saying it "fully supports" the task force's recommendation to transition to the tougher standards, noting "Trinity currently sells a fully tested and eligible" end terminal product meeting that new standard.