RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Three years after 8News first exposed concerns with some guardrails piercing through cars, killing and maiming drivers, The Virginia Department of Transportation has expanded its promise to remove them from the roads.
Previously, VDOT told us it would be removing the guardrails from roads with speed limits of 55 mph or higher. Now, crews have pulled them from all state roads with speeds above 25 mph. It is a sudden shift and 8News has found it may have to do with reports of some horrific accidents at lower speeds.
Guardrails are supposed to be a safety barrier for a car that leaves the roadway. Yet, multiple families across the country have blamed Lindsay X-Lite guardrails for the deaths of their loved ones. The guardrails have pierced, punctured and sliced through vehicles.
That’s what happened in the case of Virginia driver, Sarah Weinberg and Tennessee driver Hannah Eimers.
Both women were killed.
“This is an inherently defective product that does not belong on America’s roadways,” said Steve Eimers.
Eimers, Hannah’s father, has made it his mission to warn others about what happened to his daughter.
He is relieved to learn, 8News has confirmed, the Lindsay X-Lite guardrails no longer line the majority of VDOT roads. “That’s wonderful news,” he said.
In an email 8News was told, “VDOT has removed all identified X-lite terminals from VDOT maintained roads.”
Eimers said, “This is a bold move by Virginia DOT to expand this.”
VDOT couldn’t talk to 8News on camera about it because of on-going litigation. However, our neighbors in Tennessee could.
“We had two crashes that had those piercing type fatalities,” said Paul Degges, Chief Engineer and Deputy Commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Degges told us the X-Lite guardrails were unpredictable. TDOT pulled them off its roadways’ years ago, regardless of speed.
“We made the decision that there was a higher risk for us to leave them in place,” Degges said, “so we spent I believe it was about 4 million dollars removing them.”
In both Eimer’s and Weinberg’s case the women were traveling on interstates at highway speeds when they were impaled.
In Weinberg’s accident, the 37-year-old was on Route 66 in Northern Virginia when she crashed. The guardrail rode up over the hood of her car, ripping through the windshield, peeling back the roof and killing her.
8News has uncovered the X-Lite can and has punched through cars traveling at speeds under 55.
Eimers said, “We have seen across the United States crashes involving the Lindsay X-Lite at lower speeds that have speared the occupant compartment.”
Court documents show an X-Lite guardrail slammed through a man’s pick-up truck in Massachusetts. The metal beam cut through and under the dashboard. According to the police report, it went right into the driver’s left leg. His leg had to be amputated. Court records indicate the truck was traveling between 41 and 51 mph.
The manufacturer, Lindsay Transportation Solutions alleges it was a fully loaded dump truck and weight and height exceeded testing criteria for the guardrails.
A research engineer at the University of Alabama hired in Eimer’s case found the guardrails can’t function at speeds above 37.4 miles per hour.
In an accident in Missouri, an X-Lite pierced the passenger compartment of a Chevy Blazer and bounced out. The driver of the car was said to be going 37mph.
“What happened to Hannah, What happened to Sarah Weinberg, they knew this was going to happen, said Eimers.
The guardrail manufacturer provided the following statement:
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) examined and re-examined the X-LITE and its in-service performance and gathered input from state departments of transportation across the United States. In FHWA’s evaluations, the X-LITE performed consistently with other end terminals on U.S. roads and highways and did not lead to any conclusion that the X-Lite was unsafe. Numerous states have confirmed that they’ve had no negative experiences with the X-LITE.
Road safety equipment continues to evolve with the advancement of new technology and to account for design changes in both our automobiles and highways. New crash-testing standards approved by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the FHWA for the next generation of road safety equipment, including guardrail end terminals, have gone into effect and states across the U.S. have effectively been required to transition to the new requirements.Lindsay Transportation Solutions
The company pointed to 8News to this memo from FHWA which from was sent out to all states. The department looked at crashes involving this type of guardrail in 4 states and found this:
“In considering the 200-plus crashes, the ratio of Fatality+ Serious Injury per total crashes does not lead to any conclusions that any of the devices, including the Lindsay X-LITE, are unsafe. This finding does not replace the in service experiences that SDOTs can contribute.”
Tennessee Department of Transportation did admit not every incident was negative.
Degges said, “I will note that we have lots of information that shows where these devices worked exactly as they were designed to.”
Still, the chance of failure was just not a risk TDOT or apparently VDOT was willing to take.
8News also did some checking on roads in the Central Virginia area that are not maintained by VDOT. Both Richmond and Henrico County confirm there are no Lindsay X-Lite guardrails on its roads.