JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In a 4-month I-TEAM investigation into a highway guardrail that multiple families have blamed for deaths of their loved ones, we’re uncovering a major dispute over your highway safety.
Since we started asking questions in June to the Florida Department of Transportation about X-LITE guardrails on our local highways, FDOT tells the I-TEAM it will phase them all out by the end of the year.
The X-LITE End Terminal is designed to collapse and absorb the energy of an oncoming car. But Steve Eimers said these guardrails are often piercing vehicles in crashes, causing injuries that are severe - or in the case of his 17-year-old daughter, fatal.
The manufacturer, Lindsay Transportation Solutions, insists its guardrail meets all federal safety guidelines and perform as designed, but Eimers tells the I-TEAM he’s not going to rest until every one of the X-LITE guardrails are off highways.
“It had gone into the car and just brutalized her and killed her instantly,” Eimers told us about his daughter Hannah’s crash.
Just four months after Hannah died, Eimers tells the I-TEAM that Tennessee’s Department of Transportation sent his deceased daughter a bill for nearly $3,000 for the cost of labor and materials to replace the guardrail that killed her.
Eimers refused to pay it, and after doing his own research, he said the accident shouldn’t have resulted in Hannah’s death.
“I want people to understand this was a very survivable accident that Hannah was in,” Eimers told the I-TEAM. “There was a girl sitting beside her who walked away without barely a scratch on her body. My daughter is dead because she hit a defective Lindsay X-LITE guardrail end terminal."
A spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Transportation stated the X-LITE guardrail performed the way it was supposed to, and that the impalement of Hannah's car was due to the angle of the crash, saying the rail impacted the driver's side door.
Eimers isn't the only one blaming the X-LITE guardrail for a loved ones’ death; so is the family of a former Detroit school teacher.
Dashcam footage shows 69-year-old William Byrd behind the wheel as his vehicle veers off the road in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The guardrail appears to spear Byrd’s car – the metal is seen coming straight out of the back of his vehicle.
Byrd’s family filed a lawsuit against the manufacturer.
According to crash records, at least seven people have been killed in accidents involving X-LITE guardrails.
Eimers said the guardrail is inherently defective and claims the manufacturer cut corners in its testing. He shared some of his concerns in an August letter he sent to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
He also points to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report that looked at all guardrail manufacturers, citing potential conflicts of interest between guardrail manufacturers and crash test labs.
The report states, “GAO found that six of the nine accredited U.S. crash test laboratories evaluate products that were developed by employees of the parent organization – a potential threat to lab independence.”
The GAO recommended a third-party process for verifying crash results.
FDOT said there are 146 active X-LITE guardrails in our state. Four of those are in Duval County, located near San Jose Boulevard, Old St. Augustine Road and near the I-95/I-295 interchange. Four months after the I-TEAM started asking questions, FDOT confirmed it will be phasing out all 146 X-LITE guardrails, claiming the manufacturer failed to fully address the state’s questions about the product’s safety.
Troy Roberts, a communications specialist with FDOT, stated to the I-TEAM:
“The Florida Department of Transportation has expressed its concerns to the Lindsay Corporation. The Lindsay Corporation responded to our concerns, but FDOT did not feel the response adequately addressed our questions and concerns. While FDOT has not had any negative experiences with the X-Lite, and in the State of Florida, X-Lite has performed as expected, out of an abundance of caution, we are removing these from our roadways. The replacement of the products is slated to be completed by the end of this calendar year.”
The I-TEAM contacted Lindsay Transportation Solutions, the manufacturer of the X-LITE guardrail, for comment, and was provided the following statement:
“Florida has confirmed that they have had no negative experiences with the X-LITE. Further, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has examined and re-examined the X-LITE and its in-service performance and has gathered input from state departments of transportation across the country. In FHWA’s evaluations, the X-LITE has performed consistently with other end terminals on U.S. roads and highways.”
FDOT tells us the estimated cost to replace all 146 X-LITE guardrails is $730,000.
On a federal level, several families of crash victims requested that the Federal Highway Administration rescind X-LITE’S eligibility letter, but a 2017 memorandum explains that FHWA found that "in considering 200 plus crashes, the ratio of fatality + serious injury per total crashes does not lead to any conclusions that the Lindsay X-Lite is unsafe.”