Roadway Design Defects

In addition to the causes we commonly think of for motor vehicle accidents, such as negligent drivers and drunk drivers, it’s also important to consider factors separate from the motorists and their vehicles, including roadway design defects, improper construction of the roadway, and traffic signals, signage, and safety devices that may be inadequate or missing at the scene and that can cause or contribute to the causation of an accident. Also, inadequate or improper maintenance of the roads and these associated features, may lead to them not functioning properly and causing accidents.

roadway design defects on highways

Investigation and Deadlines

When evaluating the possibility that roadway design defects or maintenance problems caused an accident, it’s critical to determine just who was responsible for the roadway where the accident occurred. In California, this will generally be either the state’s Department of Transportation — also known as CalTrans — or the local city or county where the road is located. Determining this responsibility may take some investigation as, for example, some stretches of state highways in cities may be specified by statute as being the responsibility of CalTrans, while others have been transferred to the care of the local municipalities. There are also important time deadlines associated with determining the public agency responsible for potential roadway design defects or maintenance problems, since the deadline for filing an injury claim with public agencies in California is only six months — much shorter than the two-year statute of limitations deadline that applies in most (but not all) injury claims against other types of potential defendants. This establishes a relatively short period of time within which to identify any and all public agencies that may be responsible for the roadway design defects or other roadway problems.

Types of Roadway Design Defects

Roadway design defects come in several categories:

  • Problems with the design of the road itself, such as too-sharply curved roads for the intended speeds, inadequate visibility distances or other visibility impediments built in to the way the road was laid out, and roadway slopes that are either too sharp (producing vehicle control problems) or too shallow (that may prevent water from properly draining from the road);
  • Improper, inadequate, or missing safety devices such as barriers at the roadway medians and crash barriers at overpasses and lane splits;
  • Missing or inadequate traffic control devices such as signage, roadway striping, light signals; and
  • Maintenance problems ranging from potholes to overhanging tree limbs to faded lane striping and clogged storm drains.


Roadway design defects can be the cause of devastating accident-related injuries and even death, especially those on major highways where vehicles are moving at high speeds. These injuries can include broken bones, traumatic brain injuries, loss of limbs, and spinal trauma, and they can result in massive medical bills, the partial or complete loss of the ability to work, and the need for substantial future medical care. In addition to the professional engineers and accident reconstruction experts who may be needed to testify as to how and why roadway design defects may have caused an accident, medical professionals and experts in the area of planning future medical care may also be needed to quantify the damages that an injured person may have suffered from an accident of this type.

I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento personal injury attorney with the primary accident information site on the web,

If you or a family member has been injured as the result of a motor vehicle accident — especially one that may involve roadway design defects — call me now at 916.921.6400.

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