PLANT CITY, Fla. — In surveillance video taken from a business across the street, you can see driver Jose Sanchez Sanchez hit a guardrail.
According to a Plant City police report, the truck was only traveling at around 45 mph when Sanchez Sanchez hit the guardrail. It impaled his truck and killed him.
“It was astonishing,” said Steve Eimers, a safety advocate who lost his daughter after her car crashed into a guardrail.
“A catastrophic spearing with these outcomes at 45 mph. It's shocking, absolutely shocking.” Eimers watched the surveillance video with 10 Investigates.
“It's very difficult to you know, we have a lot of people that we like to meet about safety. We like to talk about safety. We like to study safety. We have not gotten very good at practicing safety,” Eimers said.
Working to learn more about the guardrail that was hit, we reached out to the Florida Department of Transportation. They told us, “that in August of 2022, the guardrail that was there at the time had been replaced.”
Sanchez Sanchez crashed into a trailing end terminal. According to engineers at Ingal Civil Products, Trailing Terminals are intended to provide anchorage for the barrier: "They are not crashworthy terminals when struck head-on since they are not designed to break away."
The Florida Department of Transportation also told us this in their email, "In 2016, the Department moved to upgrade to NCHRP 350 compliant guardrails and end treatments during all roadway rehabilitation and improvement projects."
Eimers says that what stuck out to him about the response was there are newer standards out there to use when installing new roadside systems.
“We have to implement, fully implement the MASH testing standards. We cannot be having Florida DOT, and they're not the only ones doing this. I'm not picking on them, but going out and installing MELTs or SRT, 350s, or other 350 devices, when we have terminal safety devices, which we know, are crashworthy at a higher level,” Eimers said.
Working with Eimers, we went through data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration from 2016-2020, documenting more than 440 deaths connected to accidents involving NCHRP350 Compliant guardrails nationwide.
In comparison, there were a few under the latest standards called "Manual for Assessing Safety Hardware" or MASH.
10 Investigates uncovered this Government Accountability Report from 2016. It mentions the Federal Highway Administration encouraging states to transition to installing only MASH standard tested roadside safety hardware by 2019 but notes concerns with how the agency would track the states' progress.
“It’s just appalling,” Eimers said.
Weeks after Sanchez Sanchez's death, a new guardrail has been installed. It is a MASH-tested guardrail and end treatment.
When we asked FDOT about the MASH testing standards, they provided the following statement:
“As you know, safety remains the top priority of the Department and, as mentioned previously, our agency is constantly evolving to meet the latest safety procedures and be up to speed with the most recent technological innovations available.
In 2017, FDOT issued a revision to its Design Standards which incorporated MASH-16 criteria into its standards for new guardrail installations. As part of this revision, the MELT end treatment was removed from FDOT standards for new guardrail installations and repair, making this type of guardrail similar to types of guardrails we’ve previously discussed. Whenever guardrail technologies and safety procedures are updated our standards and procedures are updated as well. So, while MELT terminals are in place on Florida roadways, they are being replaced with MASH-16 compliant terminals as they become damaged or when new projects take place.
As with any crash, the Department will conduct a full review of the crash to evaluate all contributing factors. While guardrails are designed to consider as many impact scenarios as possible, guardrails are designed to reduce the danger of a driver departing the roadway in the direction that they are traveling.
To that end, updates, innovations, and improved technologies with equipment like guardrail and end treatments are constantly evolving and our training evolves as well. The Department consistently reviews our Approved Product List (APL) to help ensure only products up to the latest safety standards are installed on our roadways.
As an update on the ongoing statewide assessment of all guardrail end terminals, the Department has begun a statewide evaluation and anticipates completing the review in the next two months. We are grateful for the feedback provided by your team.
Please let us know if have any further questions. FDOT reminds all drivers to always be alert, buckle up, and avoid distractions while driving.”
Florida Department of Transportation
Deputy Communications Director
10 Investigates has spotted NCHRP 350 guardrails at sites where guardrails have been replaced or repaired, including the site where Hunter Burns lost his life after crashing into a guardrail.