America's Highway Guardrails: Are They Safe?

America's Highway Guardrails: Are They Safe?

Highway guardrails are designed to save lives. But some are raising questions about whether all guardrails are really safe.

One man says his life was changed forever when the guardrail that was supposed to save him, severed his legs. The drama was captured on a 911 call.

Crash Victim: "I've lost my legs in a wreck."

911 Operator: "Are you saying you've lost both your legs, sir?"

Crash Victim:  "Oh my God. Oh my God."

Jay Traylor told Lisa Guerrero about the terrible day he fell asleep at the wheel on Interstate 85 in North Carolina.

"Pretty amazing you survived this," said Guerrero as she looked at the damaged car with Traylor.

"Yes," he said. "It took my right leg off instantly and three quarters of my left."

He said his car slammed into the head of a guardrail.

"I was more intrigued why the guardrail did not guard me from getting hurt but caused more damage," said Traylor.

When a motorist slams into a guardrail head, the system is designed to slow down the vehicle as the guardrail bends away like a ribbon.  But Traylor says that's not what happened  to him.  Instead of the guardrail bending away, he says the guardrail became a spear that sliced right through his car and then into his legs. Traylor is now suing the manufacturer, Trinity Industries.

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"I'm tired of meeting all the victims," said Josh Harmon, who claims he has documented hundreds of accidents where guardrails spears into cars, maiming and sometimes killing motorists.

Harmon owns a company that installs guardrails. He says there are thousands of Trinity guardrails on America’s highways.

"These things are failing and there are victims that are occurring on a weekly basis and if something isn't done, there will be more and more," said Harmon.

According to Harmon, Trinity Industries altered the guardrail design about 10 years ago. He says the width was reduced from five inches to four. He says they also shortened the height. Those changes may not sound like a big deal, but Harmon says they are now fundamentally flawed.

"Somebody's got to step up and do something," said Harmon.

The Federal Highway Administration says the guardrails meet all federal safety standards. But the agency's Nick Artimovich raised a concern in an email last year.

"It's hard to ignore the fatal results," he wrote.

We caught up with the federal official at a transportation conference.

Guerrero asked, "What do you have to say to the public that are using the freeway systems right now across the country that are concerned about these guardrails?"

"I would have nothing to say to the pubic directly except that the Federal Highway Administration is doing it's best to see that proper hardware is placed on the roadside," said Artimovich.

Trinity Industries says the guardrails are safe and meet all federal safety standards, that Harmon's allegations are false and misleading and deny the accusations made in Jay Traylor's lawsuit.

Josh Harmon has filed a lawsuit against Trinity to try to get them to recall those guardrails. The company says the suit is without merit and that Harmon is a competitor whom they previously sued for patent infringement.

Trinity Industries sent INSIDE EDITION this official statement:

"Trinity has a high degree of confidence in the performance and integrity of the ET-Plus® System, which we are proud to manufacture and sell under license from Texas A&M University. The false and misleading allegations being made by Mr. Harmon were reviewed by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).  The FHWA re-affirmed its acceptance of the ET-Plus® System in October 2012 and yet again in June 2014 for its eligibility for use on the National Highway System.

A lawsuit was brought by Trinity and Texas A&M for infringement of the patents covering the ET-Plus® System.  During this patent lawsuit, Mr. Harmon filed his own lawsuit against Trinity based on allegations of “false claims” associated with the ET-Plus® System. The U.S. Government reviewed his “false claim” allegations and declined to participate in the lawsuit. Trinity is defending itself against the individual making these allegations in court and is taking the steps necessary to fully protect the intellectual property of Texas A&M and the outstanding reputation of Trinity Highway Products and the ET-Plus® System."