Disputed guardrail ends get replaced as death toll climbs
Lindsay Corp.'s X-LITE guardrail end has been tied to problems that have killed people who crash into them at speeds of 70 mph or more.
An illustration of Hannah Eimers' Nov. 1 fatal crash, included in the Tennessee Highway Patrol's crash report
The contracts will be awarded, region by region, on or before April 30. The work is scheduled to be done by June 30, 2018.
Tennessee's move may be the first of its kind in the nation from a state department of transportation. Other states haven't formally announced plans to follow suit.
In Missouri, at least two people have died in crashes involving X-LITE ends since the state began using them in 2015, according to state design engineer Eric Schrader. At least one of those crashes involved the guardrail end impaling the vehicle.
Schrader was unable to say how many of the end caps are on state roads but said the Missouri Department of Transportation stopped repairing and installing the X-LITE — as well as all guardrails approved under the NCHRP 350 crash standards — in July.
When asked if Missouri might replace the guardrails, Schrader said: "We haven’t taken action yet. But I can’t say that we won’t."
Virginia has fewer than 1,000 X-LITE ends on state roads, and 37 of those were involved in crashes between Oct. 31, 2013, and March 27, 2017, according to spokeswoman Marshall Herman of the Virginia Department of Transportation.
The guardrail end impaled the vehicle in just one of those crashes, killing the driver. Herman didn't immediately specify whether any of the other crashes were fatal.
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The woman killed in that crash was Sarah Weinberg, 37, of Alexandria, Va., according to Thomas Curcio, a lawyer that Weinberg's family has retained.
Weinberg was driving Dec. 23 to see her parents for Christmas when she drove off the left side of Interstate 66 near Delaplane, Va., and hit an X-LITE end "almost head-on," Curcio said.
"Rather than telescoping, the guardrail rode up over the hood, crushed the windshield and literally whipped the roof open like a can opener," Curcio said Wednesday. "The second section of guardrail penetrated the firewall, came over the left side of the motor and punched open the driver’s door. She suffered massive head injuries and was killed."
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The terminals "are not doing what they're designed to do," he said. "They’re supposed to telescope to absorb the energy and bring the vehicle to a controlled stop, and that’s not what’s happening."
In statements provided by a company representative, Lindsay Corp. (LNN) officials have repeatedly noted the X-LITE model has passed crash and safety tests and the Federal Highway Administration has continued to approve it.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected by these tragic accidents," according to a statement from Scott Marion, president of the company's infrastructure division. "For decades, Lindsay Transportation Solutions has made safety our No. 1 priority. ... It is widely recognized that there are impact conditions that exceed the performance expectations of all safety equipment, and equipment’s inability to singly prevent every tragedy does not indicate a flaw or defect."
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Any crash at more than 70 mph will be devastating, said Tennessee's transportation department spokeswoman, Doughty.
"A guardrail is not something you want to hit," she said. "These devices are not a pillow for you to hit to gently stop your car."
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