LENOIR CITY, TN (WJHL) – A guardrail end terminal set for removal from Tennessee highways because of performance concerns has been involved in four crash-related deaths in the state in less than a year, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
But the manufacturer is standing the product saying it’s approved for use by the federal government after meeting safety standards.
Last week, the Tennessee Department of Transportation announced it would remove most of the X-Lite guardrail end terminals and replace them with products on the state’s approved list. TDOT said it made the decision after analyzing crash data.
One of the three fatal crashes involved Hannah Eimers, 17, Lenoir City. She died November 1, 2016 when her car hit an X-Lite guardrail end terminal on Interstate 75 North. Her father said Hannah’s car hit the end terminal, and the guardrail pierced her car killing Hannah instantly.
“The guardrail hit the front quarter panel of her car,” said Steve Eimers in an interview with WATE-TV in Knoxville last week. “It penetrated the vehicle, causing significant injuries. And Hannah was instantly in heaven.”
After Hannah’s death, TDOT sent a $3,000 bill addressed to her for the replacement of the guardrail damaged in the crash. “One of the most absolutely insulting, tasteless acts that I think I have ever witnessed,” Eimers said.
TDOT has since apologized for what it calls a billing error.
When the story of the billing error was published last week, TDOT announced it already had removed the X-Lite product from its Qualified Products List on October 25, 2016, just days before Eimers’ death. That meant the product no longer could be purchased or installed by state contractors, but the unapproved product was allowed to remain on Tennessee roads. TDOT spokesman Mark Nagi said the decision was based on “TDOT having concerns about potential long term performance issues associated with the telescoping w-beam slider assembly friction reduction type system.”
Then in mid-February, TDOT escalated its actions by making the decision to actually remove the product from Tennessee’s transportation network “in areas where the speed limit is 45 mph or greater,” Nagi said. That announcement was made last week as well.
Monday, TDOT released more information about the other wrecks in Tennessee since last June involving the X-Lite end terminals.
June 29th, ETSU student Lauren Beuttel was one of two people killed in a crash involving an X-Lite end terminal in Cumberland County, TDOT confirmed to News Channel 11.
And on July 2nd, one person died after hitting a similar guardrail on I-75 South at the I-24 interchange, state records show.
Lindsay Corporation, the parent company that makes the X-Lite terminal, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon expressing condolences to the Eimers family and commenting on its X-Lite product.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Eimers family and all of those affected by this tragic accident. For decades, Lindsay Transportation Solutions has made safety our number one priority. As federal standards and criteria change, we work with states to offer products that help them to enhance safety on the roads for their drivers. The X-Lite guardrail terminal has successfully passed crash and safety tests in accordance with federal standards and criteria, and remains qualified for use on America’s roadways. It is widely recognized that there are impact conditions that exceed the performance expectations of all safety equipment. While federal crash testing is intended to assess a variety of conditions, no test can replicate every possible scenario. Many factors can affect the severity of an impact, including the type and size of a vehicle, the angle at which a vehicle makes impact, vehicle speed, highway design, and many more. Without understanding the complete details of an accident, there is no additional information we can offer.”
–Scott Marion, President of Infrastructure Division, Lindsay Corporation
TDOT said it plans to open bidding on the X-Lite removal and replacement project on March 31st.