As if its name doesn't make it clear, the whole purpose of a guardrail is to prevent vehicles from leaving a roadway and veering into potentially even more dangerous territory. However, at least one type of guardrail may not be doing its job, according to a recent study. Federal officials are supporting further research to find out if the devices are as safe in the real world as they are in crash tests.

The study from the University of Alabama Birmingham, which was sponsored by the consumer advocacy group The Safety Institute and the state of Missouri, looked at eight years of crashes involving guardrails in Missouri and Ohio (not pictured above). The study found that an end terminal piece called ET-Plus from a company called Trinity Industries "was 1.36 times more likely to produce a severe injury and 2.86 times more likely to produce a fatality than the ET-2000 design [another model from Trinity]." However, due to the small, two-state sample size, the report was only able to gather significant data on these two varieties, rather than five from different makers as researchers originally intended.

Now, according to ABC News, the Federal Highway Administration is conducting further evaluations into this potential safety issue with analysis from public and private groups. "We are supporting a national cooperative highway research program to look into the performance of guard rail terminals," said FHA official Nicholas Artimovich to ABC News.

Trinity is already facing lawsuits over the ET-Plus that allege that the shortening of a piece of metal from five inches to four inches in a guardrail's design may be responsible for the potential danger. The lawsuits center around fatal crashes and incidents in which motorists lost limbs crashing into the company's guardrails.

ABC News claims that internal company emails show the change reportedly saves the company thousands of dollars each year. However, the business denies this as a reason for the alteration, noting that the model passes federal crash tests and meets safety standards.

UPDATE: An accompanying video from ABC News has been added below.

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