Tennessee to Replace Guardrails Involved in Fatal Crashes

April 19, 2017

Tennessee is preparing to replace numerous guardrail parts after the state determined that a certain model of end piece didn’t work as intended in at least two fatal crashes.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reported that Tennessee plans to remove and replace Lindsay X-LITE guardrail ends around the state.

Since June 2016 in Tennessee, four people have died in three crashes in which the vehicles hit the ends of guardrails that included that model, according to the newspaper. One of the people killed was a teenage girl whose family was mistakenly billed $3,000 for the guardrail earlier this year.

B.J. Doughty, Tennessee Department of Transportation communications director, said the guardrails “did not perform as they were intended to” in two crashes that resulted in three deaths.

Doughty said the X-LITE worked the way it was supposed to in the accident that killed the teenage girl in November 2016, but it impaled her car because of the angle of the crash.

Guardrail ends are generally designed to “telescope” or slide into each other when struck, absorbing some of the impact of a crash and preventing the metal end from penetrating the vehicle.

However, the state Department of Transportation found the X-LITE guardrail end didn’t always work that way when hit at speeds higher than about 62 mph. Tennessee officials have begun accepting bids for contractors to remove and replace most of the 1,700 or more X-LITE ends on roads where speed limits exceed 45 mph.

The department made its concerns known to federal officials in an April 4 letter that also discussed its intention to replace the pieces.

Doughty said the total cost could top $3.6 million. The work is slated to be completed by June 2018.

The part’s manufacturer, Lindsay Corp., told the newspaper that the X-LITE model has passed crash and safety tests and remains approved for use by the Federal Highway Administration.

“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,” Scott Marion, president of the company’s infrastructure division, said in a statement. “While federal crash testing is intended to assess a variety of conditions, no test can replicate every possible scenario and factors, including severity of an impact, type and size of a vehicle, the installation and maintenance of the product, the angle at which a vehicle makes impact, vehicle speed, highway design, and many more.”

Doughty, of Tennessee’s transportation department, said: “If you hit anything going 70 plus mph, it is probably going to be a devastating type crash. … These devices are not a pillow for you to hit to gently stop your car.”

State officials in Virginia and Missouri told the News Sentinel that the model of guardrail end was involved in crashes that killed three people, but those officials didn’t make clear if the parts performed as designed in those cases.

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