Our firm has handled an increasing number of roadway danger cases over the last several years. Most people look out for dangers from other drivers and take for granted that the roadway they are driving on will be built to standards and specifications and will not lead to a serious accident. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. This is especially true for roads that are under construction or newly repaved. Here are a few examples of hidden roadway defects and when to look for them:
Low Shoulder / Road Edge Drop Off
The shoulder of the road is one of the most important safety features on a roadway and must be built properly to work. Drivers do not realize how often their tires may drift of the road edge because, if the shoulder is built properly, they are able to easily steer back onto the roadway without really noticing it. Tragedy can happen, though, when the shoulder is not built properly and leaves a large drop off between the road and the side of the road. Standards require that the road edge drop off be three inches or less. If it gets above this, the drop off can thrust your vehicle further off the road. A drop off over 3 inches can also be difficult to get your tire to overcome to get back onto the road. Road edge drop offs are responsible for many horrific accidents. Road edge drop offs are a hazard during construction when new asphalt is being laid that raises the height of the roadway, on newly constructed roads if the shoulder is not properly pulled up when the work is done, and on old roads if not properly drained.
Unmarked Turns / Dangers
Proper signage is important for a safe roadway. There are standards in place for when and where signs are to be installed. The standards also require that signs meet certain visibility requirements and use certain symbols or words to make sure they are properly understood. Dangers can occur when road hazards are not properly marked. Turns over a certain degree of curvature needs signs so drivers will know they need to slow down. Dangers over a hill that cannot be easily seen need a sign so drivers will know to slow down to take precaution. Road construction requires numerous signs to make drivers aware of all the hazards of construction equipment and unfinished roadway conditions. Problems arise when road contractors do not follow the plans and specifications for signage and therefore do not make drivers aware of such dangers.
Dips / Humps
Dips and humps in the roadway are another hazard that needs to be fixed or at the very least needs to have signage to warn of their existence. A dip or a hump on the roadway where drivers are travelling at a high rate of speed can cause a driver to lose control or be thrown to the left or to the right without any warning. The fact that many people are able to make it through a portion of the roadway without crashing does not mean that a danger isn’t there. Many people have driven through a roadway condition where they’ve said to themselves, “Wow, that is a dangerous thing that really should be fixed before someone gets hurt.” Dips and humps in the road can develop over time on old roadways. They can also be present on newly repaved roads if the contractor does not take steps to correct an existing problem with the road.
Superelevation refers to raising the outside edge of a curve in the roadway. The most obvious example of this is on a circular racetrack that you see on television. Curves on regular roadways do not have superelevation like the Talladega racetrack, but they do have it, and it is important. Superelevation assists a car in going through a turn. Without proper superelevation, the forces of physics will continue to push your car straight even though the road is turning. Roadway design standards use a formula that requires most curves on roads with any significant amount of speed to have superelevation in the curves. Older roads often lack the proper superelevation. Unfortunately, newly repaved roads can also lack proper superelevation if the contractor does not correct the situation on an old road that doesn’t have superelevation to begin with. Be careful negotiating turns on newly repaved older roads to account for this danger.
Striping on the roadway tells drivers where they are safely able to travel and what is off limits to them. Improper striping can lead to cars in different lanes of traffic thinking they can both drive in a certain part of the road. Improper striping is an issue to be on the lookout for during construction work on a road, especially when the construction crew is not on site but they also have not completed the work. Most people can think of examples where old striping was still on the roadway and new striping is also present for a modification on the road. This condition can cause driver confusion and end up with cars from different lanes merging into one another. If new asphalt has been laid, a hazard can be created if there is no striping on the new asphalt to direct drivers or if the striping is placed in a hurried fashion at the end of the day. Keep a lookout for multiple striping patterns or the lack of striping in areas where road construction is taking place.
While there are many hidden dangers created during road construction, hidden dangers can also be present on older roadways due to deterioration. Federal and state highway departments and local county engineers are supposed to monitor conditions on roadways, but short staff and short funding can lead to dangerous conditions being overlooked or not being repaired. Be aware of roadway deterioration from washout or rutting from overuse on older roads, particularly those that are not frequently travelled.
When driving on the roadway, it is important to watch out for the roadway as well as for other drivers. The injury attorneys at Jinks, Crow & Dickson, PC have years of experience dealing with the consequences of improperly constructed roadways. We know well what is required by the standards for road contractors when they build roads. In automobile accidents, the roadway is often overlooked as a contributing factor. Too often investigating officers fail to consider the roadway conditions when determining the cause of an accident. A two car collision may have been caused by a dip in the road forcing a car into the other lane rather than a driver not paying attention. A single car accident where a driver left the roadway may be have been caused by a road edge drop off rather than a driver falling asleep. It is important that drivers be on the lookout for hidden dangers, especially during road construction or on a newly repaved road. It is also important to hire an experienced attorney should you or a loved one be involved in a serious accident on the road.