How About a Tire Identification Number Consumers Can Read?

NHTSA’s tinkering with the foundation of the tire recall system, but we doubt it will do anything to make it stronger. The proposed changes to the Tire Identification Number regulations will make things less confusing for manufacturers and NHTSA – consumers and tire technicians that use the TIN to determine if tires are recalled or too old – not so much. Safety Research & Strategies has submitted comments suggesting that the agency actually make the TIN useful for the public it was intended to serve. Read them below: 

Are Trinity Guardrails Safe?

On June 8, Cynthia Martin and Richard Blaine Markland of Dayton, Ohio, were southbound on I-93 in Ashland, New Hampshire, when the sedan left the roadway and struck a guardrail. Those steel rails lining the highway are designed to execute a complex task: keep the vehicle from leaving the roadway without deflecting the striking vehicle back into traffic, while allowing it to safely ride down the crash forces.

But the ET-Plus guardrail that driver Cynthia Martin struck did not yield to her Subaru Impreza and peel away from the vehicle like a flat metal ribbon. Instead, it penetrated the occupant compartment at the passenger side wheel well, slicing Markland and Martin in the legs and knees. The spear formed by the folded guardrail terminal end cap sheared Markland’s knee caps and caused both to sustain serious fractures. Both have undergone multiple surgeries to repair the damage. Markland is still in the hospital two months later.

“I know we spun around,” Markland said. “The guardrail had come into the car. Cindy was feeling a lot of pressure on her leg. My right leg was an open fracture with 4-6 inches of bone exposed. My right foot was trapped between the guardrail and the airbag, and some flesh was strewn across the inside of the car. The guardrail pushed a dent in my knee area. I knew something was wrong. Seeing my leg in that condition, I was screaming.”

The Martin incident is just the latest in a string of crashes in which an ET-Plus guardrail failed to perform properly, with devastating results for motorists and their passengers. But, according to Federal Highway Administration communications with the chief engineer of the New Hampshire state department of transportation, it never should have happened. Documents released as a result of a Safety Research & Strategies lawsuit in federal court, show that the FHWA and Trinity have devoted considerable energies to tamping down allegations that a 2005 dimensional change to the guardrail end terminals have turned these highway safety devices into weapons, rather than seriously investigating them.

Dallas-based Trinity, the globally dominant producer and seller of guardrail systems, has been battling these accusations since 2012, when Joshua Harman, president of a competitor company, SPIG Industries, of Bristol, Va., charged that sometime between 2002 and 2005, Trinity modified the design of its original guardrail end terminal design, the ET-2000, causing it to fail in crashes and injure and kill occupants in striking vehicles. 

These allegations have been the subject of news stories and civil liability, patent infringement, fraud and freedom of information lawsuits. The stakes are high. State departments of transportation buy highway safety equipment from a list of vendors whose products have been crash-tested and approved by the Federal Highway Administration; the FHWA reimburses states that use approved equipment. So, the FHWA’s acceptance is critical to a manufacturer’s business. States rely on FHWA certification as an indication that the equipment performs adequately. Without knowing it, motorists also depend on the federal agency’s imprimatur when they crash into a guardrail – to get the best chance of surviving the crash safely.

Unlike other regulatory approvals from other agencies, such as the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration or the Food and Drug Administration, there is no avenue for consumer or the state to resolve defect issues. The FHWA has no enforcement power, expect to withhold its acceptance letter. The New Hampshire crash and others like it demonstrate the weakness of this “system,” when it breaks down.

The Background

In the 1960s guardrail designs used blunt ends that acted like a spear, penetrating the vehicle occupant compartment in a crash. The turned-down twist design of the 1970s buried the exposed ends, but acted like a ramp in a crash, causing vehicles to rollover. Today’s preferred design is the Energy-Absorbing End Terminal, which absorbs the crash energy, bends the end terminal away from the vehicle, and extrudes it through a slot into a flat metal ribbon.

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