DOT Apologizes For Billing Dead Teen $3K For Highway Guardrail

Image courtesy of Knoxville News Sentinel

State officials in Tennessee have apologized to the family of a dead teenager after sending a bill in her name for $3,000 in damages her car caused to the guardrail that some — including her family — blame for the young woman’s death.

On Nov. 1, the 17-year-old was driving her father’s car home on Interstate 75 when she left the road and into the median, and then hit the guardrail on the driver’s side door, a Tennessee Highway Patrol crash report says.

The guardrail end didn’t deflect the car or buckle to absorb its impact, but instead went through it, killing the teen instantly, THP said.

Months later, her father says they received a $2,970 bill, addressed to his daughter, from the Tennessee Dept. of Transportation for the cost of labor and materials to install 25 feet of new guardrail at the scene of the crash.

The father tells the Knoxville News Sentinel he was “flabbergasted” that the department would bill his daughter “for the defective device that killed her.”

A spokesman for TDOT told the News Sentinel that the bill was the result of “a mistake somewhere in processing,” and that TDOT “greatly apologizes for it.” The family will not have to pay the bill and the department is ending a another letter to explain the error.

The News Sentinel reports that TDOT had removed the particular model of guardrail involved in this collision from its approved products list only a week before the incident. There was apparently some concern about its ability to perform against vehicles traveling more than 62 mph. That stretch of I-75 has a 70 mph speed limit.

“What bothers me is that they’re playing Russian Roulette with people’s lives,” the father told the paper. “They know these devices do not perform at high speeds and in situations like my daughter’s accident, but they leave them in place.”

Removing a model from the product list means that the agency won’t use it in future installations. As for the 1,000 X-LITE guardrail ends left out there, TDOT says it will be accepting bids for a contract to remove “most” of the terminals in question where the speed limit is above 45 mph.

In the meantime, the teen’s father says he will be pushing state officials to consider a more risk-based approach to guardrails by preemptively removing and replacing any that may be dangerous.

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.