William W. Hurst
Law Office of William W. Hurst, LLC
50 S. Meridian St., Suite 600, Indianapolis, IN 46204
Often in car or truck accidents while a negligent driver may be to blame the crash may be caused by more than just the driver’s actions. Often accidents that involve dangerous intersections, unmarked construction zones, and improper installation of signals, dangerous curves, improper markings, and a multitude of other defects in the roadway may contribute to an accident. Builders and designers of our roadways must follow strict laws. These laws are created by federal and state governments and are very detailed. The state authority, local counties and at times cities can be held responsible for dangerous conditions they create by poorly designed streets and highways, as well as the maintenance of these roadways. The best way to find out if a dangerous road caused a car accident is to contact an attorney who is experienced in this area. The attorney will visit the scene, read the reports, interview witnesses, and often hire accident reconstruction engineers and the like to determine whether or not the roadway and its defect in some way contributed to the accident.
Particularly in rural areas, automobile accidents and fatalities are often related to poorly designed features such as the lack of a safety margin in the pavement width and limited vertical and horizontal sight distances due to sharp curves and steep grades. A study conducted by the Public Roads Administration revealed that on a two-way highway with an eighteen foot pavement and grass or gravel shoulder, 11% of the trucks and 5% of the cars failed to keep on their side of the road. It is been determined that 22-foot pavements are necessary where only cars pass, and a 24-foot pavement is required for cars and trucks. In a study by Bucknell University civil engineering it is found that 14,000 people die and 542,000 receive injuries from their cars leaving the road surface. http://web.bryant.edu/~ehu/h364proj/sprg_98/poccia/safety2.html
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials is the standard setting body that publishes specifications, test protocols and guidelines which are used in highway design and construction throughout the United States. The voting membership of this organization consists of the Department of Transportation of each state in the United States as well as some other countries. Historically the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 called for uniform geometric and construction standards for the U.S. Interstate System. For state standard drawings see http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/programadmin/interstate.cfm
It is believed that of the 40,000 people that are killed on American Highways each year, of these deaths 70% could have been prevented in five of the most dangerous roads in the United States were upgraded. The most unsafe Highways in America are listed as: Bayou Road in Louisiana, US Route 6 in Connecticut, US Route 71 in Arkansas, and US Route 522 in Washington State, US Route 22-322 in Pennsylvania. http://web.bryant.edu/~ehu/h364proj/sprg_98/poccia/unsafehw.html
A recent article in Marion County indicates that data from the Joint Commission including IUPUI Center for Criminal Justice, the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute in the State of Indiana which extends to the 2010 Traffic Safety Study it is determined that Marion County’s most dangerous intersection ranked by amount of collisions are:
1. 86th St. & Keystone Ave
2. 25th St. & Post Road
3. 86th St. & Allisonville Road
4. Emerson Ave & Southport Road
5. 38th & Shadeland Ave.
6. 30th St. & Shadeland Ave.
7. East St. & Thompson Road
8. 16th & Meridian
Several of these intersections have been on the state’s list of trouble spots for the last several years. The Commission has helped identify these problem areas and have done an analysis to determine additional safety measurements which can be taken. In some cases, police officers also target them as “enforcement zones” looking for speeders and drivers running red lights. http://www.wishtv.com/dpp/news/local/marion_county/which-marion-co-intersections-are-unsafe
An example of one such accident involved a lawsuit following a collision of a semi tractor trailer and a passenger car in which the driver of the car was killed. The automobile driver’s parents and his injured passenger sued Indiana’s Montgomery County, charging the intersection of the state road and county road was negligently designed. Even though the County had complied with the required engineering standards in designing the intersection, an appellant court found that the County still may be liable. The parties argued that although this intersection conformed to the engineering standards, the County should have foreseen that drivers of large trucks would disregard the stop sign, causing crashes. The appellant court held that in intersections designed it is not reasonable “in every instance as a matter of law” solely because it complies with engineering standards. Thus in Indiana even though a municipal or a governmental subdivision complies with the design laws it still may be negligent even though the engineering standards have been complied with. The Indiana Design Manual may be seen online at www.in.gov/dot/div/contracts/standards/dm/ As well the Indiana Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices which was developed from a version of the Federal 2003 MUTCD may be obtained at www.in.gov/dot/div/contracts/design/mutcd/mutcd.html
The Indiana Partnership for Transportation Quality Achievement Awards promotes partnerships to improve highway quality. This partnership is a cooperative effort by Indiana’s Highway Industry dedicated to the continuous quality improvement in the planning, design, construction and maintenance of Indiana’s Transportation System. In recognition of Indiana being the “Crossroads of America”, their mission is to provide the Indiana highway industry a form that fosters coordination and continuous quality improvement and technological advancement in order to ensure safe, efficient, cost effective and environmentally sensitive transportation solutions. Their Committee evaluates projects that best reflects the values and criteria of quality construction. Applications for nominations may be obtained at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/indiv/iptq/
Highway engineering became prominent towards the lateral half of the 20th century after World War II. In the U.S. highway engineering became an important discipline with the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1944 which aimed to connect 90% of the cities with a population of 50% or more. The design policies and standards used currently in the United States are typically based on publications of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and research promulgated by the Transportation Research Board, the Institute of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration and the Department of Transportation. Many of these principles and design criteria have been enacted by the various States.
Over the years courtroom victories against municipalities for design errors have for the public good made changes. It has corrected bad roads to end unnecessary crashes, often resulting in injuries to innocent people in cars, bicycles and pedestrians. The law imposes on our street and highway departments a duty to provide reasonably safe roads, and this duty includes the duty to safeguard against inherently dangerous or misleading conditions. While the law often holds governmental entities for unsafe roads, our Indiana case law provides that a plaintiff has to be fault-free or his claim will be defeated. Sometimes roads are just defective to begin with. A curb that is banked in an unsafe manner or creating an unnecessary sharp curve may be a defect which results in injury to the motorist. In some cases while the design may have started out appropriately years ago, because of improper maintenance and updated compliance with design standards liability for the municipality, city or state may be imposed. Laws applicable to suits against governmental entities are unique and require the filing of a Claim of Damages (often referred to as a torte claim notice) within a limited period of time. The failure to file such a claim or wait beyond the designated time has been fatal to some unsafe roadway cases. For this reason it is very important that after an accident involving a road defect that you contact an attorney to present a claim to the governmental entity pursuant to the statutory requirements. Otherwise the failure to comply with these rules can lead to harsh results. If necessary the attorney will hire a transportation engineer who deals with the design, maintenance and operational characteristics of the highway or street in question. For the steps in the design process for highways and the role of the designer see http://www.tmr.qld.gov.au/~/media/b83581f9-95ad-4083-b91f-0332d22f3686/roaddesign1002.pdf For anyone who is interested in highway history see http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/history.htm This brings a series of articles together about the evolution of highway transportation in the 20th century.
If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident caused by unsafe road conditions, contact William “Bill” Hurst for your free consultation today.
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