How Common Are Roadway Defects?

Every driver knows that many of America’s roads are less than perfect, but how often roadway defects found? Road and highway defects are identified to be a factor in car accidents. According to the National Motor Vehicles Crash Causation Survey, out of 3,894,983 accidents, 16.3% had at least one roadway-related cause.

What Types of Roadway Defects Cause Accidents?

Dangerous road conditions and roadway defects often are the cause of accidents. Many different roadway problems can cause challenges for drivers. Here are just a few.

Roadway View Obstruction

Many different things can obstruct a drivers view of the road including bushes, trees, or improperly placed signage. Stone walls and fences can also cause roadway view obstruction.


Potholes are a significant cause of accidents. If there is a substantial pothole in the road, drivers have to swerve to avoid it. If they hit the hole, drivers may lose control of the vehicle. Motorcycles are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of holes and divets in the road.

Inadequate Signage

Motorists need proper signage to navigate the roads. Signs help drivers find their way and navigate around hazards as well as construction. The state is responsible for installing and maintaining proper signage. If a warning obscures a drivers view, or if the sign itself isn’t visible, that is considered a roadway defect. Other defects include lack of safety signage and warnings around construction zones.

Sharp Curves

An accident caused by a severe curve will fall under the category of Roadway Design Litigation. Dangerous conditions can include lack of proper striping on the road, together with lack of appropriate signage.

Absent or Defective Guardrails

Lack of guardrails, or guardrails that are faulty, can be a significant cause of accidents. These types of crashes can have devastating consequences. Guardrails are supposed to absorb the impact of a vehicle and then peel away. The posts are supposed to collapse. When they don’t, they can launch the car into the air. There are several types out there that are known to have problems. These include:

  • Blunt End Guardrails
  • ET-Plus Guardrails
  • Texas Twist Guardrails
Absent guardrails are another roadway defect that can cause terrible accidents.

Narrow Lanes

Lanes that are too narrow can also cause accidents. New England states like Rhode Island often have tight roads. Roads built before the advent of automobiles can cause severe problems for today’s larger vehicles.  Cars can be run off the road, sideswiped, and get stuck. Heavy trucks can also roll over on narrow turns.

Pavement Edge Drop-Offs

Many things can cause a car to run off the road, including swerving to miss another vehicle, driver error, or avoiding an animal on the street. In these circumstances, pavement edge drop-offs can cause a severe accident.  Drop-offs hinder a drivers ability to get back into their proper lane. The sense of surprise can also force a driver to lose control of their vehicle.

Bad Roadway Lighting

Lack of lighting on the road is also a defect that can cause accidents. Burnt out streetlights or an improperly illuminated curve can cause crashes at night. Bad weather and insufficient lighting are a combination drivers need to be very cautious of, and maintaining proper following distance and speeds are critical to safety.

Who is responsible for maintaining the roads?

In Rhode Island, RIDOT, or the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, is responsible for the condition of the state’s roadways. There are more than 1,100 miles of roads in Rhode Island that RIDOT maintains and repairs. Towns and municipalities are also responsible for maintaining some roadways in the state.

Roadway Defects

Roadway Defects Across the Nation

The number of roadway defects correlates to the size of the state. The more roads and highways there are, the likelier there are to have problems. However, it also has to do with the quality of the highway departments as well as the amount of budget each state has for roadway maintenance.

How to Avoid Accidents Caused by Roadway Defects

The number one way to prevent roadway defect accidents is to remain alert and aware at all times. Scan the road for potholes, sharp curves, and missing guardrails. When nearing a construction zone, slow down and scan the area with your eyes in case any warning signs are missing or improperly placed. Follow cones and directions from workers to avoid accidents. Be aware of narrow lanes and stop to allow other vehicles through if they are too broad. Your phone and passengers are potential distractions, so make sure your full attention is always on the road.  You just never know what the road is going to throw your way.

Drivers need to be aware of the many roadway defects that can cause accidents. Understanding what flaws are out there and how common they can help all drivers avoid dangerous situations and crashes.