Deadly guardrails tested by creators
Safety advocates: Case reveals lack of state and federal oversight
At least seven people have died after their vehicles struck a faulty type of guardrail end that passed its federal crash tests at a laboratory owned by the company selling the product.
Federal Highway Administration officials say it's not their job to police such potential conflicts of interest. Safety advocates say the case highlights a lack of oversight at the state and federal level.
“The foxes guard the hen houses,” said David Kwass, a personal injury attorney based in Philadelphia who is also a co-chairman of the American Association for Justice’s Guardrail Litigation Group. “There is no sunshine, and no accountability.”
The model of guardrail end, Lindsay Transportation Solutions’ X-LITE, has been tied to six crashes, causing seven deaths, in Tennessee, Missouri and Virginia over the past two years.
In at least three of those crashes, the product failed to perform properly, resulting in vehicles being skewered, state officials and experts have said. The product performed as intended in one of those crashes, and in the other two, authorities have not said how the guardrails performed.
One victim, Hannah Eimers of Lenoir City, was a 17-year-old aspiring filmmaker. Another, 21-year-old Lauren Beuttel of Johnson City, had recently accepted an offer to attend graduate school for psychology.
The most recent — and most gruesome — crash killed 59-year-old George Jansen two months ago on an interstate in rural Saline County, Missouri. He was a sales engineer, a church member, a basketball coach, a loyal friend, a husband, a loving father of three, and a “goofball,” according to his obituary.
The Federal Highway Administration issued a federal reimbursement eligibility letter for the X-LITE based on tests performed at Safe Technologies Inc. Such letters allow states that use the product to receive federal funds.
That lab, based in California, lists an Omaha, Nebraska mailing address on the California Secretary of State’s website. The address, 2222 North 111th St., is the same one listed for Lindsay Transportation Solutions on the Nebraska Secretary of State’s website.
The name on Safe Technologies’ listing is that of Chris Sanders, the senior vice president of Lindsay Transportation Solutions.
A Lindsay representative responded to the findings Thursday by saying the company had previously disclosed its ownership of the lab to the FHWA, and that the X-LITE remains qualified for use on U.S. roads.
"Safe Technologies, Inc. is a whollyowned subsidiary of Lindsay Transportation Solutions that is fully accredited by FHWA to collect and present all product test results, including data and video, to FHWA along with applications for approval," reads a statement from the company.
FHWA spokesman Doug Hecox said when the X-LITE's tests were performed in 2010, Lindsay had not yet purchased the rights to the product from its inventor, a New Zealand-based company named Armorflex. By the time the highway administration issued the letter in September 2011, Lindsay had purchased the design, he said.
Hecox said the Switzerland-based International Standards Organization is responsible for conducting audits to verify that U.S. crash testing laboratories are independent from product developers.