When you think of the causes of a car or truck accident, you might immediately think of driver errors, such as driving while distracted, intoxicated or speeding. In rare cases, you might think of vehicle defects, such as a brake failure or blown tire.
What you might not consider is bad road conditions or defects. We naturally assume that the roads we drive on every day are safe and well-maintained. But poor road conditions cause accidents. They’re certainly not as common, but they do happen, and like any accident, the consequences can be disastrous — or even deadly.
How Common Are Road Defects?
To quantify how common road defects are, we first need to know how many accidents there are in total. According to the most recent data available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):
- There were an estimated 6,756,000 police-reported traffic crashes in 2019
- Approximately 2.74 million people were injured in motor accidents
- 36,096 people were killed.
This means, on average, one person was killed every 15 minutes in a traffic crash. Injuries were more frequent, with five people sustaining an injury every minute.
The NHTSA’s National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey yields some additional information about the common reasons leading to crashes. This looked at a different dataset and notably assessed the pre-crash factors in crashes involving light vehicles (passenger cars).
It’s also worth noting that the reason given is “the last failure in the causal chain of events leading up to the crash.” While it plays an important role, this doesn’t necessarily mean it was the direct cause of the crash. This means that road defects may contribute to more collisions than the data suggests.
That said, we can still glean some insights into the commonality of road defects in auto crashes.
According to the data, environment-related critical reasons were provided for approximately 2% of all crashes assessed by the survey. Of that 2%, slick roads accounted for half.
View obstructions were a critical reason for 11% of environment-related crashes. Highway-related conditions, issues with signs and signals, and poor road design played a part in a much smaller percentage of accidents (9%, 3%, and 1%, respectively).
It’s clear that road defects cause a much smaller number of crashes when we look at the bigger picture, but we must remember that we are dealing with people, not numbers. A person who has been in a crash caused by a lack of road maintenance or bad road conditions might face life-changing consequences.
What about Crashes in Texas?
The 2019 data from the Texas Department of Transportation allows us to make a direct comparison at a state level. According to the data:
- 256,797 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes in 2019.
- 15,855 of those suffered serious injuries (defined as “incapacative injury”)
- Motor vehicle crashes in Texas leading to fatalities totaled 3,623.
Again, to put this into context, one reportable crash occurred every 56 seconds, with a person sustaining an injury every two minutes.
If we consider that 2% of crashes at a national level were caused by environmental factors, we can estimate that 5,136 people in Texas were injured due to bad road conditions.
Daily vehicle travel in Texas rose nearly 16% from 2010 to 2016, and the population has continued to grow in subsequent years. It’s leading many Texas motorists to experience increased delays, limited roadway capacities, and deteriorating conditions.
According to the 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, which rates each state’s performance across several categories — including road infrastructure — 22% of Texas roads are in poor condition. This has a huge economic impact, too, with each motorist paying $709 per year in costs due to driving on roads in need of repair.
What Are the Most Common Road Defects?
So now we know how common road defects are, what are they?
Here are some of the most common road defects that cause accidents:
- Shoulder drop-off
- Uneven pavements
- Lack of signs
- Obscured signs
- Slick roads
- Lack of guardrails
- Road obstruction
- Inadequate road design
Let’s take a look at each in more detail.
Shoulder drop-off or uneven pavement: Drop-offs most commonly occur when a road is resurfaced without properly raising the shoulder height. A drop-off or elevation change can startle a driver, causing them to lose control. When a drop-off causes a driver to veer off the lane, they can also experience resistance as they try to return to the road. This can lead to aggressive steering and cause a crash.
Potholes: Potholes cost drivers approximately $3 million a year in motor vehicle damages, but they don’t just have an economic impact. They’re also a significant cause of accidents. Swerving to avoid a pothole can cause a vehicle to collide with other cars on the road, but driving over a pothole can be just as dangerous. If a driver hits the hole, they may burst a tire and lose control.
Lack of signs or obscured signs: We don’t always have the luxury of driving on roads we’re familiar with, and we rely on signs to keep us safe. A missing stop sign could cause a driver to hit another vehicle at an intersection, while an obscured speed limit could lead to drivers traveling too fast or slow.
Slick roads: Anything from inclement weather conditions to road debris can cause slick roads. Slippery surfaces can lead to hydroplaning — when the tires can’t grip on the road surface — causing a loss of control. Slick roads can also be caused by a lack of maintenance, such as failing to repair drainage systems or layer asphalt on severely deteriorated roads.
Lack of guardrails: Guardrails are in place on roads to absorb the impact of a vehicle during a crash. When a guardrail is absent or has collapsed after impact and has not been replaced, the consequences can be fatal. Faulty guardrails are equally dangerous and can launch vehicles into the air instead of bearing the brunt of the force.
Road obstruction: A road obstruction is any object that blocks a road. The most common example is a fallen tree or overgrown foliage that affects visibility. These can partially obscure or entirely hide road signs or curves in the road, leading to collisions.
Inadequate road design: Government agencies and constructors are responsible for commissioning and building safe roads. Unfortunately, inadequate road design is common. Errors made during construction can lead to other road defects, such as obstruction and potholes, while sharp turns pose a threat of their own.
What Injuries Do Bad Road Conditions Cause?
Poor road conditions cause accidents, and like any car accident, they can lead to serious, even life-threatening, injuries.
If a pothole causes your tire to rip, the vehicle might roll over, resulting in a traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury. These injuries are particularly severe, as they can cause permanent damage and disability. In the most tragic scenario, bad road conditions can cause wrongful death.
Even a comparatively ‘minor’ car accident caused by a road defect can leave you with broken bones that require a trip to the emergency room and a long recovery, during which you might not be able to work and provide for your family.
You might be in an accident and not suffer any symptoms. However, you might later suffer neck pain from whiplash or headaches, which might mean a concussion.
What to Do If Poor Road Conditions Have Caused a Car Accident
If you’ve been in a car accident caused by a road defect, the first thing you should do is get medical treatment. Then, you should seek advice from a dedicated road defect lawyer to see if you have a claim. Determining who is liable for your accident can be difficult, but our Texas personal injury lawyers can assess your case and determine if you are entitled to compensation.
Then, they can begin gathering evidence, such as your medical records, photographs of the scene (especially if signage is obscured or missing, or guardrails are absent), and expert testimony. You may be entitled to a significant payout to compensate you for your past and future medical expenses, time off work, and the pain you’re suffering.
Bad road conditions can have disastrous consequences, but you may be entitled to justice and monetary compensation to help you move forward. Contact our San Antonio and McAllen road defect lawyers today to see if you have a claim by filling in our form or calling 855-LAW-NINJA.