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Dangerous guardrails being replaced in Tennessee, including some in Shelby County

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Guardrails are supposed to protect drivers, but a certain type of guardrail ending called X-lite has proven to be more of a danger than protection.

"We think that people are hitting these things at a little bit of an angle or maybe they are hitting them at a higher speed and they are not reacting like they were originally intended to react from a design stand point," says Paul Degges, chief engineer with The Tennessee Department of Transportation.

After just two years of use, the Tennessee Department of Transportation is pulling all the X-Lite end terminal systems, about 1,800 statewide, from all Tennessee roads.

"We just awarded a new contract last week, and we are going to be pulling all of these and replacing with a different product," says Degges.

WREG got a list of the sites statewide, and several of the guardrail endings are right here in Shelby County.

We found newly replaced ones on the construction site at I-40 and Canada Road, but not a mile before Canada Road something that could be a real problem in a 45 mile per hour crash is the end system does not prevent a sharp guardrail from becoming a piercing weapon.

"The thin edge of a guardrail that doesn't have an end on it can kind of cut like a knife so to speak. That flat head with the yellow and black on it, as it slides, it's supposed to catch the next piece of guardrail," says Degges.

He says that was not happening in some cases. The end terminal was separating, allowing the guardrail to pierce into a vehicle.

After two deadly crashes in East Tennessee last summer, where the guard rail went through a vehicle and killed a motorist, TDOT said no more.

"I don't think there needs to be a huge fear factor out there that these products are gonna jump out and bite you. We just felt it made sense to us given the end service performance of these products they need to be replaced," says Degges.

Still TDOT's top engineer says there is no sign the company that produces X-Lite, Lindsay Transportation Solutions, did anything inappropriate.

X-Lite was supposed to be a less expensive version of guardrail end terminals but came at a cost that has proven too costly in the long run.

TDOT says in 22 crashes, most in East Tennessee, the guardrail endings failed a third of the time.

All of the X-Lite guardrail endings on Tennessee roads will be replaced by the end of the year.