As state highway officials are considering whether as many as 5,000 ET Plus guardrails in the state pose a hazard to errant motorists, a Deerfield woman says she doesn’t have any doubts...
Last July Cheryl Turgeon was driving her sport utility vehicle on Route 9 in Stoddard when the 51-year-old dozed off and struck a guardrail.
“The railing went through the front wheel well and went between my legs and pushed my feet all the way to the back so it was like I was sitting on the railing.”
One leg was badly injured.
“It was hanging off but they were able to reattach it.”
Turgeon's vehicle may have hit an ET Plus end plate, the model being investigated by federal regulators who are trying to find out if those units pose a serious safety problem nationwide.
Normally when a vehicle hits one of those black-and-yellow end plates the plate is supposed to slide along the guardrail. The idea is to allow the vehicle to slow down gradually.
The concern with the ET Plus is whether it jams, turning the guardrail into a spear.
The manufacturer denies that happens and a series of crash tests conducted recently by the Federal Highway Administration gave the ET Plus passing grades. Critics, however, said the tests were flawed and don't adequately duplicate real-world crashes.
Department of Transportation official Keith Cota says the guardrail that Turgeon hit might have had an ET Plus end plate, but he can’t be sure.
It could have had a different model because New Hampshire uses end plates from several manufacturers and all are painted black and yellow, he said.
Safety officials also say even hitting guardrails that work properly can cause significant damage to a vehicle and its occupants.
Guardrails are designed to be the lesser of two evils. The idea is to stop a vehicle from hitting something even more damaging such as trees or going over an embankment since rollover crashes are particularly dangerous.
But Turgeon, who has not filed a suit, insists the guardrail must have malfunctioned.
“My husband told me that he was talking to the police officer there and they said they had never seen anything like it. That it kind of folded up and went right through, pierced right through the vehicle.”
Last July in Ashland two Ohio tourists were badly injured when their vehicle hit an ET Plus end plate on Interstate 93 and the guardrail also pieced their vehicle.
After Turgeon's crash the damaged guardrail in Stoddard was replaced with the ET Plus unit, DOT's Cota said.
New Hampshire stopped installing the ET Plus last fall as soon as it became clear there were questions about its performance, triggering the federal investigation into their safety.
If that investigation finds the ET Plus is unsafe the state will have to decide whether to spend millions of dollars to remove as many as 5,000 of the units.