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Opening Remarks for
Gregory Nadeau, Deputy Administrator, FHWA
and
Anthony Furst, Associate Administrator for Safety, FHWA

Guardrails Media Call

Friday, March 13, 2015

GREG NADEAU , Deputy Administrator, FHWA

Today, FHWA is releasing our analysis of the four crash tests conducted on the ET-Plus guardrail end terminal at a height of 31 inches.

Before we get into the specifics of these test results, it's important to provide some context about what guardrails are intended to do, as well as an overall picture of FHWA's safety strategy regarding the ET-Plus.

A guardrail is a safety barrier. It's intended to mitigate the consequences of a crash for a motorist who has left the roadway. A guardrail can operate to deflect a vehicle back to the roadway, slow the vehicle down to a complete stop, or, in certain circumstances, slow the vehicle down and then let it proceed past the guardrail.

Guardrails help to make roads safer and lessen the severity of crashes. For most drivers in most conditions, guardrails work as intended.

That said, unfortunately—and sometimes tragically—guardrails cannot completely protect drivers in every situation. Factors like the size, speed, and orientation of a vehicle, and the condition of the guardrail prior to impact, can affect guardrail performance.

In 2013, 32,719 fatalities occurred on the Nation’s roads for all vehicle types. Fatalities involving passenger cars and light trucks striking a guardrail face and end as the most harmful event represent 0.6 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively, of total highway fatalities in 2013. Of course, at USDOT and FHWA, we consider one fatality too many.

Ensuring the safety of the traveling public is the guiding principle behind all we do at FHWA—not just our efforts related to the ET-Plus. US DOT embraces the National Strategy on Highway Safety Toward Zero Deaths as a significant step toward eliminating traffic fatalities. It’s also an approach that echoes our own Strategic Plan, which states our goal of "working toward no fatalities across all modes of travel."

Importantly, we believe in this mission and for many, it is their life's work at FHWA and State DOTs across the country.

All highway deaths and injuries are unacceptable, and FHWA will continue to thoroughly assess the performance of roadside safety hardware and specifically, the ET-Plus.

Although the primary focus of today's announcement is the most recent set of crash tests conducted on the ET-Plus, I want to emphasize that this new crash testing represents only one component of FHWA's multifaceted safety strategy to make informed decisions on the crashworthiness of the device.

We have been working to obtain and assess as much credible evidence and data on the ET-Plus as we can. These data include crash information collected by States and others, crash information submitted in response to FHWA's call for data in the Federal Register, and crash information in Federal safety databases.

As we work to answer questions raised about the ET-Plus, it is critical that FHWA engage our State safety partners. We have formed two joint task forces with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (or AASHTO).

The first task force, whose report was released earlier this week, evaluated measurements of more than 1,000 ET-Plus devices installed throughout the country to reach two important conclusions:

    First, the devices tested in December and January are representative of the devices on the road.

    And, second, the measurements do not support allegations that Trinity manufactured a second version of the 4-inch ET-Plus.

A second AASHTO-FHWA task force is analyzing crash data to assess whether the ET-Plus has vulnerabilities that compromise its ability to perform as designed and to recommend whether additional testing and analyses of the ET-Plus are warranted. We will report on the results of that task force once its work is completed, which is expected early this summer.

But our work will not stop with these two task forces. More broadly, FHWA is assessing the scale and scope of an in-service performance evaluation of all W-beam guardrail end terminals, which will include collection of data from future crashes with the ET-Plus and other end terminals.

And, we are engaged in a thorough evaluation of our process for determining whether roadside safety hardware is eligible for Federal-aid reimbursement to determine whether modifications or improvements are necessary. As we undergo this evaluation, I intend to initiate process improvements as we identify they are needed, rather than wait until the completion of our review.

We will report out on our additional efforts as we complete each step of our assessment.

Turning to the subject of today's announcement—the crash tests conducted on the ET-Plus at the 31-inch height—FHWA's Associate Administrator for Safety, Tony Furst, will walk through the findings.

TONY FURST, Associate Administrator for Safety, FHWA

FHWA safety engineers, with the assistance of experts in injury biomechanics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, analyzed the results of the four crash tests conducted at the Southwest Research Institute. With respect to the data from the crash tests:

    All of the tests were conducted in conformity with NCHRP Report 350 Test Criteria.

    All of the test vehicle specifications were within the allowable tolerances.

    All of the test articles conformed to specifications and drawings of the designer and are representative of in-service installations.

    All of the vehicle impact angles for the four tests were within the recommended tolerance.

    All of the occupant impact velocity values for the four tests were within the preferred limits.

    All of the ridedown acceleration values for the four tests were within the preferred limits.

    There was no penetration of the vehicle by the test article in any of the four tests.

    There was no penetration, or the potential for penetration, of any of the detached elements, fragments, or other debris from the test article in any of the four tests.

    The vehicle post-impact trajectory was found to be acceptable with no rollover in all four tests.

    Vehicle impact speeds for all four tests were within tolerance with the exception of test 31-33 (angle test with the pickup truck), which was below the nominal speed tolerance band of 4 kilometers per hour by 3 kilometers per hour (or about 2 miles per hour). FHWA finds that it is unlikely that an impact speed 3 kilometers per hour higher would have a significant effect on the ridedown acceleration or impact velocity levels recorded, all of which were well below preferred limits.

    Impact severity for all four tests was within tolerance with the exception of test 31-31 (head on impact with the pick-up truck), which was above the upper limit tolerance. Report 350 stipulates that a test where the impact severity exceeds the positive tolerance is acceptable, provided the test results meet recommended evaluation criteria, as was the case for this test.

    There was no compartment deformation with the exception of test 31-30 (head-on offset test with a small passenger car). NCHRP 350 states that 'Deformations of, or intrusions into, the occupant compartment that could cause serious injury should not be permitted.'

We are mindful that others have reached their own conclusions regarding whether or not the amount of deformation in this test could cause serious injury based on helicopter video footage of this crash test.

Southwest Research Institute determined that the maximum point of compartment deformation was approximately 6.75 inches at a point roughly equal to the top of the driver’s seat cushion. Right about where you’d reach for a map in the driver-side door. FHWA personnel met with Southwest Research Institute’s staff and confirmed the methodology used in this measurement.

As NCHRP does not define "serious injury," FHWA used the Abbreviated Injury Scale (AIS) to define serious injury. The Abbreviated Injury Scale is a trauma-specific, anatomically-based scale that was developed by the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine. This scale is used extensively to describe injuries resulting from motor vehicle crashes. It is also how injuries are coded in multiple databases of crash records.

FHWA utilized experts in injury biomechanics from NHTSA to assist in our analysis. Crashes involving levels of deformation of the driver-side door at the same location as the location in Test 31-30 were extracted from 17 years of data contained in the National Automotive Sampling System – Crashworthiness Data System. This enabled an analysis of the levels of occupant compartment deformation, at the location of the deformation, to AIS injury levels to the lower leg. Based on this analysis, the risk of serious injury from the location and amount of deformation of the driver-side door in test 31-30 is 0.3% [zero point three percent]

Dr. H. Clay Gabler, the Chair for Biomedical Engineering Graduate Studies in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics at Virginia Tech is the independent expert who reviewed the crash test results. Dr. Gabler independently evaluated the potential for serious injury from multiple perspectives including the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s side impact crash test parameters. His analysis concludes that a driver exposed to the crash conditions in this test would have been unlikely to have been at risk of serious injury from the folded rail impact to the driver-side door.

Based on our analysis of the crash test results and the analysis we conducted into the level of risk of serious injury, we conclude that at the height of 31 inches, the ET-Plus end terminal meets the applicable crash test criteria.

This is the same conclusion that Dr. Gabler and the Southwest Research Institute each independently reached.

We will post the test results and findings on our website so that others wishing to compare the crash test data against the standards applicable to the device may have the benefit of the full and complete data set.

With that, Deputy Administrator Nadeau would like to make some closing remarks.

GREG NADEAU

I think we can all agree that safety of the traveling public is a mutual goal for all who are closely following the questions raised about the performance of the ET-Plus.

FHWA is determined to protect travelers, and these tests are one piece of our review of the performance of this device.

To recap—FHWA has completed the first step in our evaluation of the ET-Plus. We have concluded that the ET-Plus meets the applicable crash test criteria. We, along with AASHTO, have also concluded that the data do not support the conclusion that there is a second version of the ET-Plus on our roads and that the devices that were tested are representative of what is on the roads.

But, we are not done. We are continuing to review real-world crash data, and we are engaging with AASHTO and others in our assessment of the ET-Plus, with the common goal of ensuring roads are safe for travelers.

We would be happy to take questions. In addition to Tony Furst, our Associate Administrator for Safety, FHWA Executive Director Jeff Paniati, and Keith Cota, Chief Project Manager for the New Hampshire DOT and the Chair of the AASHTO Technical Committee on Roadside Safety, here today and available to answer your questions.

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Page posted on March 13, 2015.
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