Gonzalo Martinez and his brother were traveling along I-8 in Southern California in his Volkswagen Jetta. Data from the car's computer showed they were driving at a speed of 75 miles-per-hour, five miles over the speed limit when they crashed into a lengthy stretch of the guardrail. Gonzalo was pronounced dead when responders arrived. A piece of guardrail had pierced through the vehicle and had struck Martinez in the head and neck areas. His father has since been unable to obtain information regarding the cause of the crash and why the guardrail pierced the vehicle upon impact.
The California Highway Patrol generated a report that confirmed the guardrail was the controversial X-Lite product by Lindsay Transportation Solutions (LTS), which was widely installed across the country in past years. The guardrail was promoted as being able to absorb the energy when struck by a car. This is the latest among many accidents that suggest the X-Lite guardrail performs poorly and may actually contribute to worsening the damage in a collision.
Guardrail Being Evaluated
Gonzalo's father saw the vehicle at the impound lot when a worker told him the guardrail that pierced the vehicle had been removed. The Federal Highway Administration confirmed that their investigators had recovered the guardrail for testing and analysis. The tow yard worker stated that such activity is very unusual and it furthers the suspicion that this product is still being scrutinized by federal authorities.
The X-Lite guardrail product has been the subject of considerable concern in recent years. The Federal Highway Administration, Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol, and other authorities from Massachusetts and Missouri have all studied the product performance in response to concerns.
Steve Eimers, a resident of Tennessee, brought a wrongful death claim against the product manufacturer in 2016 after his daughter was killed in a collision with a stretch of the guardrail. His case was unsuccessful and the state's transportation office claimed the guardrail responded normally to the impact of the collision. Tennessee Congressman John Duncan has voiced his opinion that the X-Lite system is dangerous and should be replaced.
Concerns in Maryland
Efforts to determine the safety of the product in Maryland have so far been inconclusive; however, the Maryland Department of Transportation is in the process of replacing the state's guardrails to meet increased federal safety standards. The same process is also now underway in Virginia and Texas. The Maryland State Police also have completed some accident reconstructions involving the X-Lite and were unable to determine for sure if the product underperformed or not.
According to NBC 7, the X-Lite product has been deemed by federal regulators to no longer meet safety standards and is not compliant moving forward. Representatives from LTS have denounced claims questioning the product's safety. In a statement, they explained that the guardrails “cannot eliminate all the risks involved” in collisions with fast-moving vehicles. Critics are still expressing concern that this widely used guardrail system will continue to contribute to worsening the outcome of vehicle accidents in the upcoming years.