How Bad Road Conditions Cause Accidents: Road Defects and the Causes of Poor Road Conditions

Reviewed by Louis Patino, JD, DC

Louis Patino, JD, DC
A former U.S. Army Combat Medic, Dr. Louis Patino is a distinguished attorney recognised by Top Attorneys of America, Expertise, and the American Institute of Trial Lawyers. He has a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Texas Southern University and a Doctor of Chiropractic from Parker College of Chiropractic.

bad roads cause accidents

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 like brake failure or a blown tire.

What you might not consider is bad road conditions causing accidents. We naturally assume that the roads we drive daily are safe and well-maintained. But accidents do happen because of road defects. They’re certainly not as common, but they do happen, and like any accident, the consequences can be disastrous — or even deadly.

We look at how often bad road conditions cause accidents, what these road defects are, and what causes them.

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.

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 assessed the pre-crash factors in crashes involving light vehicles (passenger cars).

It’s also worth noting that the reason 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 bad road conditions 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.

Another cause of poor road conditions is view obstructions, 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 much fewer 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 severe 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 environmental factors caused 2% of crashes at a national level, 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 substantial economic impact, too, with each motorist paying $709 per year in costs due to driving on roads needing repair.

What Are the Most Common Causes of Poor Road Conditions?

So now we know how common road defects are. What are they?

Here are some of the most common causes of poor road conditions that lead to accidents:

  • Shoulder drop-off
  • Uneven pavements
  • Potholes
  • 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 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 an accident.

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 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. This causes poor road conditions by partially obscuring or entirely hiding road signs or curves in the road, which often leads to collisions.

Inadequate road design: Government agencies and constructors are responsible for commissioning and building safe roads. Unfortunately, inadequate road design is common. Errors during construction can lead to other bad road conditions, such as obstruction and potholes, while defects such as sharp turns pose a threat to their own.

What Injuries Do Poor Road Conditions Cause?

Bad 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 Bad Road Conditions Have Caused an Accident

If you’ve been in a car accident caused by a road defect, the first thing you should do — if you can — is call the police. When they arrive, they’ll document the scene, which will form a crash report. This outlines the what, where, and how, and it can be valuable evidence for your claim.

It can also be helpful to gather your own evidence at this time — if your injuries allow. Important details to note down include:

  • The cause of the poor road condition
  • Where it is located
  • Any injuries you’ve sustained
  • The contact details of any witnesses or other vehicles involved.

After seeking medical treatment for your injuries, 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.

Liability can be a complex issue, and if the bad road condition that caused your accident falls under the remit of a local government agency, it can be difficult — if not impossible — to file a claim. However, in some cases, a contractor or other private organization may be responsible for maintaining the road. 

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.

This is an important step, as to successfully claim compensation, you must show the organization was aware of the road defect and did not take action, constituting negligence. You also need to prove that these bad road conditions caused your accident and injuries, which is where the initial evidence you collect at the scene can be useful.

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 car accident lawyers today to see if you have a claim by filling in our form or calling 855-LAW-NINJA.

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