On November 1, 2016, 17-year-old Hannah Eimers was driving her father’s 2000 Volvo S80 on I-75 near Niota, Tennessee, when the car went off the road, traveled into the median, and hit a Lindsay X-LITE guardrail end terminal on the driver’s side. Instead of the guardrail end terminal telescoping back on impact or re-directing the vehicle, as it should, the guardrail end terminal penetrated the car, impaling and killing Hannah.
On October 26, 2016, just six days before Hannah was killed, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) had removed the Lindsay X-LITE guardrail end terminal from its qualified products list, based upon concerns for potential long-term performance issues of the terminal’s telescoping W-beam slider assembly friction-reduction type system.
The decision to remove the Lindsay X-LITE guardrail end terminal from the state’s qualified products list meant that TDOT would not replace or install new Lindsay X-LITE guardrail terminals. Unfortunately, over 1,000 X-LITE guardrail terminals were allowed to remain on the roads across the state. The same X-LITE guardrail system had already been involved in at least three other fatal crashes in Tennessee at the time of Hannah’s death. Later in 2016, TDOT made the decision to remove these guardrail end terminals entirely from roads where the speed limit is greater than 45 mph. The TDOT has started the process, but it is unclear how long such a massive overhaul project will take.
Earlier that year, on July 2, 2016, 69-year-old Wilbert Byrd was killed on I-75 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, when, while a passenger in a 2015 Ford Explorer that his nephew was driving, the vehicle left the roadway and collided with a Lindsay X-LITE guardrail end. The two relatives were traveling from Detroit, Michigan, to attend a funeral in Georgia. Once again, the guardrail’s W-beams penetrated the vehicle and traveled through the vehicle’s cabin. It entered through the center dashboard and exited the rear windshield. Over 60 feet of guardrail passed through the vehicle in a matter of seconds.
America’s Dangerous Roadways
Guardrails are installed along America’s roadways for the protection of motorists. Guardrails, if properly designed, keep vehicles from straying off the roadway and, when impacted at the endpoints, should absorb or dissipate energy from the crash and give way, rather than remaining rigid and potentially penetrating and spearing into the accident vehicle. But, unfortunately, there are tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of guardrails that will not achieve this purpose either due to poor design or improper installation.
Hannah and Wilbert’s deaths were due to a new series of catastrophic failures pertaining to the X-LITE system. Specifically, when impacted, the end rail often fails to properly contain the telescoping rails, resulting in violent and deadly penetration of the impacting vehicle.
According to the United States Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), 29 states in the country have the X-LITE installed on state-owned roadways. There are approximately 14,000 X-LITEs nationwide; however, over 80 percent are concentrated in seven states: Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Testing and Approval Process
The large number of defective and potentially dangerous guard-rails on our roads raises questions: why and how did this product get approved for American roadways? While the “why” answer is more complex, the “how” is much easier to describe. The United States government, through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) sets out testing criteria for guardrail systems. If a company provides passing results to the government, then the FHWA will inform individual states that Federal funding can be used for the installation of those systems. However, the testing criteria are minimal standards that are outdated by all measures due to the inherent inability of a publicly funded governmental program to keep up with state of the art technology. Unfortunately, individual state transportation departments (DOT) are left with the impression that FWHA approval is the gold standard, despite the reality that the standards are bare minimum criteria that fail to take foreseeable real-life scenarios into account.
We uncovered that the company that was performing the “independent” testing on the Lindsay X-LITE was in fact owned by Lindsay Corporation. Shockingly, the documentation of the test results submitted to the FHWA indicate that Lindsay appears to have cherry-picked specific test findings in order to obtain approval. In addition, following nationwide publicity surrounding several lawsuits filed against Lindsay in June 2017, Lindsay has sought and received FHWA support for yet another similar guardrail design, the Lindsay MAX-Tension, on June 15, 2017. It is anticipated that this new design was also subject to the same self-testing and self-reporting as prior Lindsay products. It will be important to closely monitor the performance of this new rail throughout the country.
The full article can be accessed here.