Driving in California is hard enough contending with crowded roadways and distracted drivers. To make matters worse, motorists are now dealing with the increasing danger of deteriorating roads. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that dangerous roads account for nearly 23% of traffic-related deaths each year. It is estimated that defective roads cause 8,000 deaths annually.
A number of studies and surveys document the quality of the state's infrastructure and potential dangers of poor road conditions. The Road Information Program (TRIP) found that California has six of the top-ten bumpiest urban road networks in the United States. The San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose Bay Area roadways are among the roughest, with an estimated 83-90% of major roads in the metropolitan area in poor or mediocre condition. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave California's infrastructure a C minus. These poor ratings exist despite the fact that California has some of the nation's highest tax rates for road maintenance. With California's well-chronicled budget woes, the issue of aging roads and highways is a troubling and expensive dilemma.
Factors That Could Affect Roadway Safety
Poor road conditions present an inherent question for motorists, advocacy groups and legislators: Are our roadways safe? The answer involves several factors, including the following:
Roadway Design: Most roads and highways follow design standards set forth in the Green Book published by the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials. This publication establishes a series of guidelines for highway engineers to follow. Substantial deviations from the guidelines can be the basis for liability in defective road cases.
Proper Signage: It is critically important to have signs warning drivers of dangerous conditions, whether it be abrupt lane changes, merges and turns, or how weather may affect the road. The lack of signage providing positive guidance (for example, slippery when wet, winding road, sharp turns) could have deadly consequences for unsuspecting drivers.
Liability can also arise when municipalities fail to update signs to warn drivers of changes to roads or conditions.
Continuing maintenance: With the constant pressure and abuse roads take every year, they must be maintained to ensure continued safety. Changing weather and heavy traffic can lead to deterioration of the road surface including dangerous potholes if roads are not properly maintained. Also, roads that go long periods of time without being resurfaced are subject to wheel rutting, which may cause vehicles to hydroplane in rainy conditions or unsafe shoulder conditions which prevent a motorist from recovering from a loss of control that takes them off the driving surface.
Dangerous Points on Bay Area Roads
Given these factors, there are certainly dangerous areas on California's roads. More than 42 accidents, including one fatal accident, on the San Francisco Bay Bridge have been attributed to the S-Turn on I-80. Recently, the family of a truck driver killed on the bridge brought suit against Cal Trans, citing unsafe road design and poor signage, which allegedly led to the driver's losing control of his truck and plunging 200 feet to Yerba Buena Island below.
With the growth of population in East Contra Costa County small, county roads have become popular shortcuts and pose a threat to drivers trying to avoid heavy traffic on I-580. With several blind corners and narrowing lanes, drivers deal with a stretches of road that despite high speed use, have no guardrail. The winding roads of Highway 17, which connects the Central Coast with Santa Clara County, also has dangerous points where accidents can occur despite conscientious driving.
Lawsuits Concerning Road Safety
Gwilliam Ivary Chiosso Cavalli & Brewer has represented numerous plaintiffs injured in accidents occurring in dangerous intersections and on poorly designed roadways, including a 15-year-old girl who suffered permanent brain injury when the family truck and trailer left the roadway and struck a tree due to lack of proper signage of a dangerous, compound curve; the family of a 30-year-old woman killed when she pulled out before a truck at a blind intersection; and a 5-year-old girl who was struck by a hit-and-run driver at an intersection without adequate lighting or warning lights.
In addition, the firm represented a 15-year-old who suffered severe closed head injury and brain damage when the driver of the car lost control of vehicle while legally passing a semi-truck and struck the mountainside. The case resulted for a substantial settlement with the State of California due to the design and maintenance of the highway.
Finally, the firm represented a 43-year-old who lost control of his motorcycle when his wheel dropped into a gap between lanes, causing him to crash and sustain multiple fractures. He claimed that the road had been deteriorating for years and that CalTrans made inadequate repairs despite knowing about the gaps in the highway lanes.
Speak With an Attorney
If you have been injured in an accident, contact an attorney for an assessment of your case. An experienced attorney can help determine if roadway design, poor maintenance or improper signage contributed to the accident.