Road Conditions and Auto Accidents

Sometimes the condition of the road may cause or contribute to an accident, or worsen the injuries suffered in an accident. Issues of road design and maintenance may thus play a role in injury litigation or insurance claims arising from car accidents.

Road Conditions Affecting Driver Safety

The following factors affecting road conditions may play a role in a motor vehicle accident:

Road Design

The design of a roadway can contribute to accidents, through such factors as:

  • Road layouts that make it difficult to see other vehicles on the road or approaching at intersections;

  • Creating hazardous pinch points through poor lane design and markings;

  • The presence of dangerous obstacles on or adjacent to the roadway; and

  • Inadequate signage;

  • Inadequate nighttime illumination; and

  • Increasing susceptibility to weather conditions

The alignment of a road, the degree to which it is banked, the adequacy of nighttime lighting, the visibility of road markings, and the nature and condition of the surface material, can all contribute to road safety.

For public roads, lawsuits alleging negligence in the design and construction of a road may be defended with a claim of sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity laws can vary significantly by state and analysis of immunity claims can be complex, so after an accident where design may have been a factor it is beneficial to consult a lawyer who is experienced with road design claims.

Poor Maintenance

The failure to properly maintain a road can contribute to an accident, through such factors as:

  • The accumulation of debris on the road;

  • The presence of potholes or other wear of the road surface;

  • Deterioration or fading of road signs and lane markings;

  • Overgrown trees and foliage that obstructs a driver's line of sight or obscures signage; or

  • Inadequate snow removal or insufficient salting and sanding.

As with road design claims, the defense of governmental immunity may be available when inadequate maintenance contributes to an auto accident. A government may also have a defense based upon a lack of notice, where the governmental unit or agency responsible for maintaining a road is not aware of the dangerous condition, or has not had adequate time to respond and render the road safe before an accident occurs.

Bad Weather

As a result of bad weather, road surfaces may become slippery or slick. Accumulation of water, slush, ice and snow can present hazards to motorists. The manner in which other drivers react to the weather, whether through an extreme excess of caution or a disregard of the dangers posed by the weather conditions, can also contribute to the probability of an accident.

When weather conditions render driving unsafe, drivers should attempt to find a safe place to get off the road and wait for the weather to improve. If you are driving at a time of year when you are likely to have your windshield splattered with dirty water, mud, slush, or salt, before driving make sure that you have a good supply of windshield solvent.

Driver Duties

When you operate a vehicle, you are expected to pay attention to the road conditions and to adjust your speed based upon road and weather conditions, the condition of the road surface, traffic congestion or back-ups, and other factors that may affect driving safety. Every state imposes a duty upon drivers to reduce their speed to a safe speed, even if that safe speed is well below the posted speed limit. In some circumstances, as by way of example might occur in a blizzard, the safe speed on a road may be zero miles per hour -- that is, sometimes the only safe thing to do is to pull over to the side of the road and wait for conditions to improve.

If you are involved in an accident as the result of road conditions, and the investigating officer concludes that you were driving at a speed in excess of what was reasonably safe under the circumstances, you may receive a ticket for driving at an unsafe speed. Your speed may also become a factor in a subsequent insurance claim for vehicle damage, or in the assessment of fault for an accident in the event of a personal injury claim.

Copyright © 2006 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was last reviewed or amended on Jul 18, 2016.