Friday, March 31, 2017

Latest Outrage: Tennessee Bills Teen Nearly $2,970 For Wrecking Guardrail That Killed Her

Hannah Elmers, 17, died in a Tennessee car crash involving
an unsafe guardrail. The state of Tennessee later billed
her for the wrecked guardrail, but withdrew the
bill after public outcry.
Last November, Hannah Elmers, 17, was driving her dad's 2000 Volvo down Interstate 75 near Niota, Tennesees when she somehow lost control of the vehicle, traveled into the median skidded sideways, forcing the driver's side door to hit the end of a guardrail.

As USA Today reported, instead of deflecting the car, the guardrail pierced it, killing Elmers.

This would have ended up as another terrible local tragedy, a nice young teenager dying too young.

Except Tennessee decided to make things worse. Much worse, as Hannah's dad, Steven Elmers soon learned.

As USA Today describes it:

"Four months later, Steven Elmers of Lenoir City received a $2,970 bill from the Tennessee Department of Transportation, dated February 24 and addressed to Hannah for the cost of labor and materials to install 25 feet of guardrail at the scene of the crash. 

'I'm shocked, the audacity,' he said. 'What bothers me is that they're playing Russian roulette with people's lives. They know these devices do not perform at high speeds and in situations like my daughter's accident, but they leave them in place.'"

Wait, what?!?

It turns out, not only did Tennessee have the audacity to bill Hannah, they also know the type of guardrail they used is unsafe. And could kill other people.

Last fall, Tennessee transportation officials did decide to stop buying the type of guardrail involved in Hannah's crash, called a Lindsay X-Lite.

When a car hits the end of this type of guardrail, it's supposed to collapse like a telescope, theoretically minimizing injuries to the people in the car that hits it.

However, at high speeds, it doesn't collapse, and you get situations like Hannah's, where she crashed into it at high speeds. The stretch of Interstate where she was driving has a speed limit of 70 mph.

The state was originally going to leave existing dangerous guardrails in place, but now says they are  going to remove the remaining Lindsay X-Lite guardrails from other high speed locations in Tennessee.

They'd better. The Knoxville News-Sentinel says that since June, 2016, four people have died in Tennessee after colliding with this type of guardrail.

But what about that $2,980 bill?

A spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Transportation says the bill came from "a mistake somewhere in processing" and the department "greatly apologies for it."

Nice, but I don't trust it. How could somebody not catch this before it went out? I think the reversal and apology is more because of the bad PR that came when after the bill went out than any good intentions from the state.

By the way, the maybe unsafe other types of guardrails, made by Trinity Industries Inc. might be along highways in other states, like yours.

A whistleblower named Joshua Harman won a $663 million settlement against Trinity, after he alleged the company altered the design of one of its guardrails without getting approval from the Federal Highway Administration, the Knoxville News-Sentinel said. 

Virginia, citing the safety reasons, is removing a Trinity guardrail called ET-Plus for safety reasons. The city of Nashville, Tennessee did the same.

Adds the Knoxville News-Sentinel: 

"Trinity has since been involved in a slew of lawsuits nationwide in which crash victims alleged the unauthorized changes caused the guardrails to spear vehicles, resulting in injuries and deaths."

Hoo, boy, this company is in trouble. Let's hope any problematic guardrails made by this company get replaced before there are more tragedies.

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