When Safety Mechanisms Harm, Not Help

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When Safety Mechanisms Harm, Not HelpA type of guardrail end cap known as the X-Lite is responsible for at least seven deaths: four in Tennessee, two in Missouri, and one in Virginia. Instead of crumpling upon impact, as is supposed to happen, in some cases the cap and guardrail have not absorbed impact. Instead, they have speared the car, killing people inside.

Stephen Eimers became a national spokesperson for getting rid of the X-Lite guardrail systems after his daughter Hannah died in Tennessee, even going so far as to buy a Super Bowl ad in order to publicize the issue. In November, 2016, Hannah’s vehicle crossed a median and hit a guardrail on I-75, skewering the car and killing her instantly.

Eimers says that he has discovered roughly 25 deaths and a number of gruesome amputations that he claims were caused by the X-Lite guardrail system.

A Suit against SC DOT

An April 2017 crash that happened on I-26 in South Carolina killed a 67-year-old woman. As a result, her son has brought a suit against SC’s Department of Transportation, the maker of the X-Lite guardrail system, the Lindsay Corporation, and others. The suit, filed in March 2018 claims that, when the X-Lite system failed, one of the guardrail’s beams pierced the vehicle, causing the deceased “to suffer immediate, horrible, and agonizing pain, severe damage to her internal organs, internal bleeding, hemorrhaging, multiple fractures and ultimately death.”

While South Carolina has refused to remove the guardrails, it has joined more than two dozen other states in taking X-Lite off their lists of approved products.

What States and the Feds are Doing

So far, about a dozen states have removed or plan to remove the X-Lite guardrail systems. Among them are Missouri, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is on record as stating that safety is a top priority, yet they have not done anything substantive to get to the bottom of things. The FHWA did provide a website where states can share information about the guardrails. However, they will not take on the removal of the suspect guardrails, insisting that it is each state’s responsibility to do so if they wish.

Keep in mind that the Takata airbag deaths have added up to approximately 20 so far in the U.S., fewer than the number of deaths suspected to be due to dangerous guardrails. While the airbag scandal brought about a lot of publicity and several recalls, the guardrails situation has resulted in only some states taking it upon themselves to replace the X-Lite system. But the good news is that at least they are taking action to prevent future deaths.

Most of the suspect guardrails are in seven states: Texas, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The Future

The state of Tennessee claims that the guardrail’s end cap functioned as it should have in Hannah Eimers’ case. Still, just six days before her fatal crash, the Tennessee Department of Transportation publicly stated that it would no longer use X-Lite guardrail systems. Grieving father Steve Eimers has commented,  “If this had been the Governor’s child, [these guardrails] would have been off the road. They played Russian roulette with her life and she lost.”

It’s too soon to know what the ultimate outcome will be. A company that sold similar guardrail systems, Trinity Industries, won a reversal of a judgment against them in 2017.