Dangerous and Defective Roads


Deciding who is at fault in a traffic accident can be complex. Sometimes a driver is at fault, but sometimes the road itself is to blame. Dangerous intersections, where stop signs or traffic signals are not properly installed, can create accidents. Trees and shrubs that hide posted signs or oncoming traffic can reduce a driver's visibility. Poorly maintained streets and potholes also create hazardous conditions. Roadway design defects on streets and highways create dangers not only for vehicle drivers but also for bicyclists, skaters, and pedestrians. California law requires that the government agency responsible for a roadway keep it safe. Lawsuits against cities, counties, and the state are governed by special laws and require a special area of law expertise. 

What is a roadway defect?

Federal and state governments set design and maintenance safety standards so that freeways, highways, roads, and streets are safe for vehicle traffic. When these standards are not met, accidents can result. Some common roadway defects include:

  • steep pavement edge drop-off
  • traffic control devices (such as traffic lights) that do not function properly
  • uneven roadway surface and potholes
  • improper guardrails or embankments
  • inadequate recovery zones or shoulder lanes
  • improper striping
  • signs or signals that are not clearly visible or are missing
  • ineffective drainage
  • improper curve or embankment
  • Improper grading
  • inadequate sight distance
  • improper installation of median barriers
  • inadequate or missing crosswalk

California Cities Top the List of Most Poorly Maintained Roads in the Entire Country

The United States has been criticized in recent years for a deteriorating infrastructure – roads, highways, and bridges built decades ago have not been properly maintained over the years and present a huge safety risk to the public. 

According to a 2018 report:

“One-third of the nation's major urban roadways – highways and major streets that are the main routes for commuters and commerce – are in poor condition. These critical links in the nation's transportation system carry 70 percent of the approximately 3.2 trillion miles driven annually in America. Road conditions could deteriorate even further as the rate of vehicle travel continues to increase and local and state governments find they are unable to adequately fund road repairs.”

The report also found that the top three cities with the poorest roadways in the United States were all in California. The number one urban metropolitan area with the worst roads was San Francisco--Oakland, CA with a whopping 70% of its roads rated in poor condition. The second ranked area was San Jose with 64% of its roads rated in poor condition. The third worst area was Los Angeles--Long Beach—Anaheim region with 57% of its roads rated as poor.

Poorly maintained roads not only cost drivers in terms of vehicle damage, repair costs, and lost time, but also present serious safety hazards.  Los Angeles is particularly notorious for its potholes.  In 2019 the Los Angeles City Council agreed to pay $6.1 million to settle a lawsuit filed by a motorcyclist who suffered a severe brain injury when he crashed after hitting several potholes. In a separate incident in 2017, it paid $6.5 million to settle a lawsuit from a bicyclist who hit a pothole and suffered broken bones and a severe traumatic brain injury. 

According to some reports, the most deadly highway in the entire country is the SR-99, a 400-mile mostly rural highway that runs through the centers of Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto and other valley cities. The SR-99 had a total of 264 fatal accidents between the years 2011 and 2015 which equates to 62 fatal accidents per every 100 miles.  One major factor for the large number of accidents in this highway is its lack of lighting – most accidents on the freeway occur at night. Another particularly dangerous California road due to its design is the California SR 138 in Southern California which stretches from Interstate 15 to Palmdale. The tight two-lane road is especially treacherous due to poorly lit areas and its twisting, mountainous sections. 

Dangerous Highways in California 

On average, California's drive 14,500 miles annually. With Californians traveling over 353 billion miles every year, accidents are an unfortunate fact of life in this state. California traffic accidents can leave victims severely injured and tragically result in fatalities far too often. While a vehicle accident can happen on any type of roadway, there are certain conditions and situations that make some roadways more dangerous than others. For example, low visibility, narrow lanes, dense traffic, poor navigability, speed limit, and many other factors can affect the danger level of a particular highway road. In 2018, approximately 3,563 people died in traffic accidents in California. California was the state with the second-highest number of traffic deaths in the United States. 10 of the 15 deadliest stretches are located in Southern California, while only 5 are located in Northern California. These stretches average 1.48 fatal collisions per mile, compared to 0.15 for the entire highway network. Los Angeles County has by far the most dangerous segments, with 16 targeted highways.

Interstate 5

The Interstate-5 (I-5) runs longitudinally through California from its origin in San Diego to its terminus in Canada, and is the most hazardous stretch of highway in California, with 768 fatalities between 2010 and 2016. This number increased from 2015 to 2018 with a total of 800 deaths. This equates to about 1.2 auto accidents for every mile of highway. The I-5 runs nearly 800 miles long up the length of California, but the deadliest spot for motorists is in San Diego County. In this sector, 110 people were killed in 99 fatal accidents. Beyond San Diego County, at least 50 people were killed in fatal automobile crashes in Los Angeles, Kern, Orange, San Joaquin and Sacramento County's portions of I-5. This highway has extremely heavy traffic and is regarded as one of the least picturesque, which may explain why drivers generally zone out and fail to be aware of their surroundings.

State Route 99

Several routes in the United States have been called "Highway to Hell," but Highway 99 has been declared the most hazardous road in the entire country. Nicknamed the Golden State Highway in one part, it was renamed State Route 99 and runs through Sacramento. Highway 99 got the nickname from the number of accidents per 100 miles driven. Over a five-year period, there were 62 deaths for every 100 miles along this 400-mile-long highway. Some of the causes cited for the high number of accidents and deaths include the road's design and poor lighting, as well as the number of intoxicated drivers, distracted motorists, and speeders that use it. State Route 99 is narrow and ageing, making it less safe for motorists than more modern roadways. Highway 99 is especially dangerous after dark, with 40 percent of the accidents occurring during the nighttime hours due to the poor lighting.

State Route 138

State Route 138 has been dubbed the "highway of death," "blood alley," and "death route." State Route 138 crosses east to west with many mountainous sections in its eastern leg. It is a scenic highway as it follows the San Gabriel Mountains and the Mojave Desert. In the San Bernadino and Los Angeles counties, Route 138 is notorious for its steep, hilly scenery, abrupt S-turns, and startling drop-offs. Popular Mechanics named SR-138 one of America's 10 Most Dangerous Roads.

State Route 49 

California's State Route 49 is the most deadly road in the United States by the number of people killed per accident. For every 100 fatal crashes, 146.4 deaths occur. 

U.S. Route 199

Another dangerous highway in California is U.S. Route 199, with narrow and twisting lanes. It is reported that one death occurs approximately every 2 miles throughout the 80-mile highway. Many drivers using US Route 199 report swerving off the road and experiencing car accident events that can easily result in significant injuries or even fatalities.

Interstate 15

The I-15, which connects Los Angeles and Las Vegas, is considered the "Gateway to Sin City." The driving distance has minimal topography or diversions and is widely known for drivers exceeding the speed restrictions. Excessive speeding on I-15 often leads to fatal car accidents, whether due to impairment or distraction. According to a government study, drivers who were not wearing seatbelts were responsible for 50% of the fatalities on I-15. Recently, more safety measures have been implemented, including road repairs and upgrades. However, a 15-year study recently released indicated that 1069 fatalities from 834 car accidents took place on Interstate 15.

Interstate 80 

Interstate 80 is a major highway that connects San Francisco to the East Coast in New Jersey. With a length of 2,899 miles, it is the country's second-longest highway. It was constructed in the Sacramento Valley to replace US Route 40. I-80's initial route, which led to downtown Sacramento, was known as the Capital City Freeway. Although the scenery along I-80 is breathtaking, winter weather conditions may make it dangerous for drivers. This route may be particularly dangerous in the Sierras due to slippery, wet surfaces, poor visibility, and blizzard conditions.

Interstate 505 

The Interstate 505 is a high-speed road with a speed limit of 70 mph. However, because police presence is minimal, drivers frequently exceed that limit, increasing the risk of an accident. Big rigs and other large vehicles use it as a truck route, which removes the need for drivers to enter Sacramento in order to access I-80. The I-505 goes from north to south at Vacaville up to near Dunnigan where it reaches I-5. Interstate 505 is mostly a two-lane highway, with some sections built with concrete and some with asphalt. On this perilous and lonely country road, heavy traffic from huge trucks might increase your chances of an accident.

How we can help you in an unsafe or road design-related accident

If you have been injured in a car accident and think a road design defect or poorly maintained road contributed to the collision we urge you to contact us for a free, confidential review of your potential case. Because different laws often protect government entities from liability, proving negligence on the part of Caltrans, Los Angeles County, or a local city requires a certain kind of knowledge and experience. Our Los Angeles based attorneys work with consultants and experts in highway design, roadway maintenance, and highway safety, as well as with accident reconstruction specialists to determine liability and build a strong case. Consultants can give expert testimony on design, construction, engineering, and maintenance. Your lawyers will also work with economic experts, health care professionals, and other specialists to determine the financial impact of your injuries. The law limits the time in which you have to file a lawsuit so it is important you contact attorneys as soon as possible in order to preserve your rights and gather the evidence necessary to build a case.

Contact Taschner Law today for a Free Consultation and see how we can help!

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