DETROIT – Just days after the Local 4 Defenders exposed a potentially deadly hazard on Metro Detroit roads, state officials have changed their tune and will replace a certain type of guardrail end that's causing concern among drivers.
The Defenders ran the story three days ago, and on Thursday, the Michigan Department of Transportation reacted.
Local 4 discovered 90 X-Lite guardrails in the state, and 77 of them are located along the heavily traveled I-275.
X-Lite guardrails have been named in three lawsuits related to deaths of passengers or drivers who died when the guardrails pierced through their vehicles, according to authorities.
After the Defenders investigation, MDOT has decided to replace all the X-Lite guardrails in the state.
William Byrd, 69, was headed to a funeral and driving through Chattanooga, Tennessee, in his SUV when it veered off the road and crashed into an X-Lite guardrail.
"All I see is metal going straight out the back of my dad's vehicle," his son, Malcolm Byrd, said. "They told me my dad was dead on arrival."
Malcolm Byrd isn't the only family member mourning the death of a loved one killed after hitting an X-Lite guardrail.
Gonzalo Martinez, 23, was driving with his brother in Southern California when he swerved off the freeway and wiped out 60 feet of guardrail posts before stopping. Martinez wasn't wearing his seat belt, officials said.
"It was a bad accident," his father, Sergia Martinez, said.
Investigation photos show a guardrail pierced Martinez's windshield, ripped out the headrest of the driver's seat and came out the back window.
According to California Highway Patrol officials, the guardrail was an X-Lite end terminal made by Lindsay Transportation Solutions.
The X-Lite guardrail was linked to another crash in Tennessee, involving 17-year-old Hannah Eimers.
Eimers' car went off the road and collided with an X-Lite guardrail.
"A guardrail pierced her car and she was killed instantly," her father, Steve Eimers, said.
When a car hits a guardrail, the end terminal, or cap, is supposed to act like an accordion and absorb the car's impact. Video obtained from the Federal Highway Administration shows safety-test footage of a vehicle crashing into a Lindsay X-Lite guardrail and what is supposed to happen during a collision.
Local 4 went to MDOT with the findings earlier in the week.
"MDOT is in the process right now of reviewing the performance of our X-Lites," said MDOT development director Brad Wieferich. "We understand that other states have had issues. We're being very cautious of this. We are, but we need to complete our review to make sure we know what our next move is."
Here is the statement Local 4 received Thursday from MDOT spokesman Jeff Cranson:
"Based on a thorough analysis, MDOT engineers have decided to replace the remaining 90 some X-Lite terminals in question. Most of these are in the metro Detroit area. An extensive review of the terminals found no operational issues on MDOT roads. The Federal Highway Administration still considers the product eligible for use.
"But out of an abundance of caution, the department’s Engineering Operations Committee met last week and agreed on the recommendation, putting things in motion for replacement projects. The projects will be bid in the fall and the cost for replacements for all will total $500,000 to $750,000. Again, in the context of other states, Michigan has very few of these terminals. They account for about .4 percent of MDOT’s 23,600 guardrail endings."
Here is a statement from Lindsay Transportation Solutions:
"The X-LITE end terminal has saved lives and reduced the number and severity of injuries sustained from automobile accidents. Numerous states, like Michigan, that use the X-LITE on their roads have confirmed that they’ve had no negative experiences.
"Road safety equipment continues to evolve with the advancement of new technology and to account for design changes in both our automobiles and highways. In 2015, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) along with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) announced the schedule for implementing the fifth generation of road safety equipment, including guardrail end terminals, on the National Highway System that meet new crash-testing standards called MASH. The standards for this product went into effect last year and states are transitioning to the new requirements, which includes discontinuing the installation of products approved under the previous standard, like the X-LITE."