Dad on a Mission, Federal Oversight in Question
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WBFF) - Like an upgrade to the newest smartphone, highways are upgraded with the newest safety equipment. However, the newest upgrades may carry old concerns with them.
Driving to her Tennessee home from a Halloween party in 2016, Hannah Eimers’ Volvo went off the road and hit a guardrail. The guardrail terminal end, or cap, placed on the end of a guardrail, is designed to collapse on itself and cushion the crash. Instead, this guardrail cap locked up, and pierced Eimers’ car. Hannah was dead at 17.
Her father, Steve, is traveling from state to state, asking the cap involved in Hannah’s accident, the Lindsay X-Lite, be removed from roads.
“There is a very high probability that somebody’s going to die,” Eimers said in Annapolis, as he tried to convince the state to remove the guardrail caps here.
Ten states have done just that. Maryland has not.
The State Highway Administration (SHA) says it will not install more X-LITES on state roads, citing new crash test rules for guardrail caps. The X-Lite doesn’t meet those new crash test standards, but the federal government does not call for the removal of old caps, like the X-Lite.
“That’s irresponsible. You know there’s a problem. You know that there are other states that have removed them for safety reasons,” retired SHA traffic engineer Gene Simmers says.
Even as states move to new crash standards, old concerns remain from a 2016 Government Accountability Office report. It criticizes the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for not addressing “potential threats to independence.”
The X-LITE, and its successor in Maryland, the MAX-Tension, were both tested by a lab owned by the company that makes the guardrail caps, the Lindsay Corporation.
“We could all be PhDs if we can give ourselves our own testing and graded our own papers,” Eimers said.
When Virginia independently tested the X-LITE, cars crashing into the guardrail cap flipped over shortly after impact. Virginia is removing its X-LITES from roads with speed limits above 55 mph.
FHWA says the Virginia testing was not performed to approved crash standards. It defends the original testing of the X-LITE, and still finds it acceptable for highway use.
After our story aired, FHWA asked that we post the following statement:
“Safety is the top priority of the Federal Highway Administration, and we remain committed to reducing fatalities on our nation’s roads. No family should suffer like the Eimers family has. Beginning in 2018, federal-aid reimbursement for roadside guardrails will be contingent on these devices meeting the most recent and more stringent safety criteria developed by all state departments of transportation.
FHWA also continues to monitor and report online the progress states are making in transitioning to the latest crash test criteria for guardrails.”
X-LITE’s manufacturer, The Lindsay Corporation, declined Fox45’s request for an on-camera interview, but did say in a statement that the X-LITE “has reduced the number and severity of injuries sustained in automobile accidents.”
Lindsay says the testing of guardrail ends complied with federal law, and was reviewed by FHWA.
While SHA will not remove the 980 X-LITEs from Maryland roads, its Deputy Director of Communications, John Schofield says, ”we have absolutely zero, no incidents, of unusual circumstances involving an X-LITE.”
Despite questions about testing, Schofield defends FHWA, and the state’s response to X-LITE concerns.
“I don’t believe in any instance where [FHWA], or a state highway administration, would purposely, overtly, or covertly, put anyone’s safety in danger. That’s just not what we do,” Schofield said.
The Lindsay X-LITE is now the target of lawsuits filed by the law firm, Cohen Milstein. The guardrail end has been tied to five deaths in those lawsuits, including Hannah Eimers.