A controversial guardrail is being blamed for at least six deaths, and a News4 consumer investigation found thousands of them are on roads in Virginia and Maryland.
According to three lawsuits filed against the manufacturer of the Lindsay X-LITE guardrail, instead of deflecting vehicles, in some cases the X-LITE pierces them with deadly consequences.
Steve Eimers 17-year-old daughter, Hannah, died last year when her car was pierced by a guardrail after she ran off the road.
“A guardrail at highway speeds, what it will do is horrific,” Eimers said.
He works tirelessly to get the guardrails he calls dangerous off every road in the country.
“I can tell you that state DOTs have raised significant concerns about how this product functions,” he said.
Hannah is one of four people killed in Tennessee after hitting the ends of guardrails. According to lawsuits in those cases, each time the vehicle was speared by a Lindsay X-LITE guardrail end terminal.
In Virginia, Sarah Weinberg, of Alexandria, died last December on Interstate 66 in Fauquier County.
“This system, the X-LITE, it's a telescoping system,” said Thomas Curcio, attorney for Weinberg’s family. “It pushes down section upon section, and as it's doing that, it's absorbing energy and slowing the vehicle down, bleeding off energy so that it slows. It's a controlled stop, you have a crash, but you don't have a fatality.”
That didn’t happen in Weinberg’s crash, Curcio said.
Photos from a crash in Saline County, Missouri, show a truck skewered in February. The state said it was an X-LITE. The driver was killed.
In a statement to News4, Lindsay Transportation Solutions said, “Lindsay Transportation Solutions’ top priority is to provide solutions that reduce the number and severity of injuries sustained in automobile accidents.
“X-LITE has successfully passed crash and safety tests in accordance with Federal standards and criteria, and remains eligible for Federal transportation funding. There is no road safety equipment that can prevent injury every time a driver fails to stay on the road, but X-Lite has reduced the number and severity of injuries sustained in automobile accidents. A variety of factors contribute to the potential for injury when a driver fails to stay on the road, including speed, the angle at which a vehicle makes impact, and whether road safety equipment is installed and maintained properly.
“We encourage you to visit https://xlitefacts.com/about/ to learn more about X-LITE. Thank you.”
While the X-LITE remains on the federal government’s list of approved products, at least 11 states, including Virginia, decided to stop using it. The Virginia Department of Transportation issued a memo last year citing concerns over how the X-LITE performed in crash tests.
Maryland said after reviewing all guardrail crashes on its roads over the past year, it does not plan to pull the X-LITE.
“We are considering a myriad of factors, and right now, we have no indication that this has been involved in any unusual or injurious situation on Maryland roads,” Maryland State Highway Administration Deputy Director of Communications John Schofield said.
Asked about fatalities in other states, Schofield responded, “I would tell you that the Maryland Department of Transportation and all of us at the State Highway Administration are always concerned about people’s safety. Any insinuation or any possibility of us sitting on our hands and allowing safety to come second is just not true.”
News4 also learned the federal government is taking a closer look at how all guardrail end terminals perform in real-life situations. The government is in the process of collecting detailed information about crashes from a number of states.
Eimers is calling on the government to not only pull the X-LITE from its approved products list but make sure every single one is removed from roads across the country.
“I know how this will end,” he said. “It will end with a national recall. The only thing I don't know is when that will happen.”
Starting next summer, guardrail end terminals will have to meet new crash test standards to receive federal approval. The X-LITE does not qualify, so there won't be any new ones installed after next June.
But the thousands that are already on the roads will remain in place.
Reported by Susan Hogan, produced by Meredith Royster and edited by Perkins Broussard.