- Briefing Room
U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
FHWA Review of ET-Plus
Q) When it comes to guardrails and their components, does FHWA regulate roadside safety hardware like guardrails?
A) No. FHWA does not regulate or prescribe requirements for safety hardware. States and territories install and maintain their highway systems, including hardware.
Q) Does FHWA establish crash test criteria for roadside safety hardware?
A) No. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), with support and assistance from the Transportation Research Board, develops the crash test criteria and safety standards. In addition to establishing safety standards and crash test criteria, AASHTO recommends assessments of devices in use on roads (also known as "in-service evaluations" of roadside safety hardware). FHWA provides technical input to AASHTO standards but has no vote when a decision is made by AASHTO for establishing those criteria.
Q) What is FHWA's role in the review of roadside safety hardware?
A) FHWA does not regulate roadside safety hardware, nor does FHWA endorse any product. FHWA provides a service to state DOTs by a) reviewing crash test results of roadside safety hardware conducted by accredited testing facilities certified to perform crash testing upon request, b) determining whether or not the test results demonstrate that a device meets applicable crash test criteria; and c) issuing a letter stating a device is eligible for Federal-aid reimbursement if it meets the criteria. FHWA provides its crash test review, verification and eligibility service to reduce the burden upon the states that lack the technical expertise or staff resources to determine whether a particular safety device meets the relevant roadside safety hardware criteria. All eligibility letters are posted on FHWA's Office of Safety website. Importantly, a letter of funding eligibility is not required for federal funding – a state may opt to certify a product's crash worthiness on its own.
Q) What is the role of the states?
A) States own and operate the Federal-aid highway system, make the day-to-day decisions on the use of federal funding within the statutory requirements prescribed by Congress and oversee the design, construction, maintenance, and operation of the system in compliance with federal and state regulations. States decide which safety hardware to install on their roads and are responsible for maintaining such hardware. They also set the safety criteria for roadside safety hardware as members of AASHTO.
Q) Are FHWA eligibility letters a regulatory requirement for guardrails, guardrail end terminals and other types of roadside safety hardware to be installed in states?
A) No. An FHWA eligibility letter is not required for states to use roadside safety hardware and receive federal aid. States may make their own determinations, relying on certifications from accredited crash test facilities or crash test data from a manufacturer. A state DOT may also place limits on the use of a device, require additional testing or in-service evaluation. However, it is FHWA policy that any roadside safety hardware placed on the National Highway System meet the applicable crash test criteria in order for the state to receive reimbursement for that hardware.
Q) Does FHWA have the authority to force a company to recall highway equipment?
A) No. FHWA does not have recall or regulatory authority.
Q) Was Trinity's ET-Plus four-inch guardrail end terminal crash-tested?
A) Yes. FHWA determined that the Trinity ET-Plus four-inch guardrail terminal was crash tested in 2005 by Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), an accredited testing facility, and met the required crash test criteria. FHWA also reviewed two crash tests conducted in 2010 in which the ET-Plus four-inch guardrail terminal met the required crash test criteria.
Q) What actions has FHWA taken to confirm that the ET-Plus meets AASHTO's evaluation criteria for crash testing?
A) In 2012 FHWA re-reviewed crash test information, including photographic evidence and test results. A visual examination of the position and location of the device's feeder channel and the type of welds used confirmed that the 2005 test subject was the four-inch version (the four-inch feeder channel fits into the extruder head while the five-inch version butts up to the back end of the extruder head). Additionally, FHWA used scaled measurements from photographs to confirm that the 2005 test had been conducted on the four-inch design. In 2012, Trinity and TTI provided FHWA additional test data from 2010 that reaffirmed that the four-inch wide version met the crash test criteria. The extruder head tested in 2005 and 2010 is the same design that is in use today. Both met AASHTO standards.
Q) What other reviews has FHWA conducted to determine whether the ET-Plus is performing as designed?
A) In 2012, FHWA asked AASHTO to survey all state DOTs about the performance of w-beam end terminals (the ET-Plus four-inch is in that category of end terminals). None of the 20 respondents identified any performance issues with the ET-Plus.
In 2014, FHWA reviewed results of another AASHTO survey. The 2014 survey was sent to members of its Subcommittee on Design (which includes 48 state DOTs, Puerto Rico DOT and District of Columbia DOT) and focused specifically on the ET-Plus. Of the 33 states that responded, only one (Missouri) noted specific issues with the device. FHWA is analyzing guardrail end terminal crash data provided by the Missouri Department of Transportation.
In the summer of 2014, FHWA reviewed data from the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Study, a congressionally mandated, on-scene crash study conducted by NHTSA to better understand the causes of different types of crashes. FHWA extracted and analyzed all crashes involving w-beam end terminal hits. A total of 14 cases involving the ET-Plus 4-inch were found and the evidence available did not indicate a performance issue with the device in any of these cases.
In October 2014, FHWA requested all state DOTs provide information they may have on crashes involving the ET-Plus with the four-inch terminal end on their roads. The agency is reviewing those results now.
FHWA is also reviewing results of an October 2014 study from the University of Alabama-Birmingham entitled "Relative Comparison of NCHRP 350 Accepted W-Beam Guardrail End Terminals."
Q) Why is FHWA requesting that Trinity re-test the ET-Plus?
A) The Federal Highway Administration has not and will never waver on safety. We have requested that Trinity re-test the ET-Plus guardrail end terminal to ensure it meets both the criteria established by the states and the expectations of motorists on our highways. The safety of U.S. motorists and the roads on which they travel is our number one priority. We reviewed, strengthened and accepted a plan that will be used to re-test the ET-Plus four-inch guardrail end terminal. The future use of the end terminal on U.S. roads will be determined by whether or not the device meets the applicable crash-test criteria in tests conducted by an accredited, independent testing facility, with FHWA engineers and interested state DOT representatives present. FHWA will proceed in a data-driven manner in order to confirm whether or not the end terminal meets crash test criteria.
Q) When and where will the re-testing take place?
A) The required re-testing of Trinity's ET-Plus is scheduled to begin the week of November 17, 2014, at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. This facility did not participate in any previous tests of the ET-Plus and has no financial interest in the product. All required tests are scheduled to conclude in January 2015.
Q) Why is FHWA requesting Trinity to test the ET-Plus to the specifications under NCHRP 350? Why is FHWA not asking Trinity to test to the current MASH criteria implemented in 2011?
A) All roadside safety hardware receiving an eligibility letter before 2011 must meet the appropriate crash test criteria that existed at the time, which is NCHRP 350 (or its predecessor). The ET-Plus device being tested received its acceptance letter in 2005 (eligibility letters were called acceptance letters in 2005). Any roadside safety hardware developed after 2011 and any hardware with significant modifications after 2011 are required to be tested using the MASH criteria.
Q) Why is FHWA not requesting low angle crash testing which has been requested by outside parties?
A) We are assessing these requests by collecting and reviewing data to determine whether the ET-Plus and other comparable end treatments have vulnerabilities under conditions not covered by NCHRP 350 testing. We will consider whether additional analyses, including evaluations of the end treatments' performance on roads (in-service performance evaluations), are warranted.
Q) When will the crash-test results be made available?
A) FHWA expects to receive, review and make the crash test results public once testing is complete and data reviewed. We anticipate completion and release of the results in January or February 2015.
Q) Will media be able to view the testing as it happens?
A. The testing facility and Trinity must determine whether media will be permitted to view the testing as it happens. FHWA encouraged Trinity to be transparent.
Q) What action will FHWA take if the ET-Plus four-inch guardrail end terminal fails this latest round of testing?
A) If the ET-Plus does not meet the crash test criteria, the device will immediately be ineligible for federal funding.
Q) Why is the Trinity ET-Plus still eligible for funding when there are questions about the product's safety?
A) FHWA must rely on and take appropriate action based on credible data and information provided by the states, AASHTO and other stakeholders. There is no conclusive evidence at this time that indicates this product is not performing in the field as designed. When queried in 2012 and 2014, the states did not provide information claiming otherwise.
Q) How does FHWA help states reduce the number of crashes that result from roadway departures and guardrail collisions?
A) A roadway departure crash is defined as a non-intersection crash which occurs after a vehicle crosses an edge line or a center line, or otherwise leaves the traveled way. FHWA's Roadway Departure Safety Program provides technical assistance, tools and information for transportation practitioners, decision makers, and others to assist them in preventing and reducing the severity of roadway departure crashes, at http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/roadway_dept/. FHWA provides training to states regarding the proper design, installation, and maintenance of roadside safety hardware. Information on roadside safety hardware that has been tested for crashworthiness according to recommended procedures can be found at http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/roadway_dept/policy_guide/road_hardware/.
Q) What are the factors that come into play when there are fatalities related to crashes involving guardrails?
A) There are many factors that can affect the performance of a guardrail and its components when it is struck by a vehicle. Road and weather conditions, the volume of traffic, the speed of the vehicle striking the guardrail, the type and size of the vehicle that hits a guardrail, the angle of impact and the installation and maintenance of the device can all affect how the device performs. That is why it is important to know details about the crash before determining whether or not a piece of roadside safety hardware did or did not perform correctly. Crash testing is intended to assess worst practical conditions, but no testing can replicate every accident scenario that could happen on a road.