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Missouri acts to ban certain highway guardrail installations

Missouri has banned the new installations of certain guardrail heads in the state because of a defect they claim makes the guardrail act like a "spear" that can lead to serious injuries of vehicle occupants in the event of their crashing into the guardrail. This week, two additional states joined the ban, with seven states now prohibiting their use.

Guardrails are one of the more mundane elements of highway construction and many people will drive a lifetime any never, literally, run into a guardrail. You probably pay little attention to them, but the serve an important protective role, that of keeping your vehicle from colliding with object near infinite mass, like a bridge supports or other large structures along the road.

The rail head on these guardrails is supposed to absorb some of the energy in a crash, has malfunctioned and 5 deaths and 14 accidents have been attributed to this malfunction.

Federal authorities have been slow to react, with one agency stating the guardrails "meet crash-test criteria" and the other claiming there is insufficient evidence to begin an investigation.

Of course, merely meeting crash-test criteria does not guarantee they are safe in the field on actual highways.

What is most troubling about this issue may be that it was discovered as part of a patent infringement lawsuit, not by safety regulators.

Also this week, a whistle-blower case resulted in a $175 million verdict against the company for failing to report the changes to federal regulators. The damages will be tripled by statute and will total $525. The New York Times suggest the total with other fees added could top $1 billion.

The New York Times, "As Safety Concerns Grow, More States Ban Use of a Guardrail Unit," Aaron M. Kessler and Danielle Ivory, October 22, 2014

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