Three of Tennessee's federal lawmakers are joining the fight against a controversial guardrail model tied to at least seven deaths.
Stephen Eimers, of Loudon County, lost his 17-year-old daughter Hannah in November 2016. The car she was driving left Interstate 75 in McMinn County and struck a Lindsay X-Lite guardrail terminal.
Rail terminals are designed to direct the rail away from a car when struck head-on. But in Hannah's case, the rail pierced her car, killing her instantly.
Since her death, Eimers has been fighting to have X-Lites removed from U.S. roads. At least seven deaths across Tennessee, Missouri and Virginia have been tied to X-Lite penetration of a vehicle.
The Tennessee Deptartment of Transportation agreed to remove 1800 X-Lites statewide.
Eimers flew to Washington DC earlier this week to lobby the Federal Highway Administration to rescind the letter of approval for the X-Lite, which allows states to receive federal reimbursement for the device. Representatives of several Tennessee lawmakers sat in on the meeting.
A representative of the Highway Administration described the meeting as "productive."
Now, in a letter dated April 21, Sen. Bob Corker, Sen. Lamar Alexander, and Rep. Jimmy Duncan ask the Federal Highway Administration to “…consider revoking the September 7, 2011, letter of eligibility for the X-LITE Terminal guard rail unit after reviewing information submitted by state departments of transportation and the unit’s manufacturer.”
The lawmakers cite Eimers’ death and previously reported fatalities in Virginia and Missouri and ask the department to consider revoking the letter if "safety concerns" are identified. It would be the first time in at least 20 years the DOT had taken such action.
They also point to a 2016 report by the U.S. Government Accountability office, which found states have a "general lack of established inventory data" when it comes to guardrail devices installed.
The Highway Administration requested its state division offices report where X-Lite systems are used. Responses were due Friday.
"To date, 46 replies are in showing that about half of the states do not use this particular product," wrote Doug Hecox, with the Highway Administration. "We should have a more complete picture early next week but this is the extent of the information that has been requested so far."
So far, officials have not provided a number of installed devices nationwide.
10News reached out to Stephen Eimers for comment. He said he had not seen the letter from the congressmen yet. Once it was sent to him, he said "I'm pleased, it cost me my daughter though."
"This is a first step," he added. "Let's get [the letter] revoked and we'll talk about what's next." He also added that the meeting with the highway administration went well.
The X-Lite is made by the Lindsay Corporation. A spokesperson for the company sent the following statement, attributed to President of the Infrastructure Division Scott Marion:
"For decades, Lindsay Transportation Solutions has made safety our number one priority. The X-Lite guardrail end terminal has successfully passed crash and safety tests in accordance with FHWA standards and criteria, and remains qualified for use on America’s roadways. As experts such as FHWA have pointed out, there are impact conditions that exceed the performance expectations of all road safety equipment--including severity of an impact, vehicle speed, highway design, type and size of a vehicle, installation and maintenance of the product, the angle at which a vehicle makes impact--and the equipment’s inability to singly prevent every tragedy does not indicate a flaw or defect.”
"The transportation safety community has long recognized that a variety of factors, including whether road safety equipment is installed and maintained in accordance with the AASHTO Roadside Design Guide, can affect the severity of an impact. Representatives from Lindsay Transportation Solutions spoke last week with FHWA and AASHTO personnel. On that call, Lindsay informed FHWA and AASHTO that we are continuing a thorough evaluation of field incidents and coordinating efforts with a number of state DOTs and others in the transportation safety community regarding the X-Lite guardrail end terminal. In recognition of the fact that federal crash testing does not replicate every possible scenario and factor, this evaluation considers impact data as well as pre-impact conditions including installation, maintenance, and roadside conditions of the end terminal."
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