Can a road be responsible for a crash?

Negligence is often seen as a factor contributing to motor vehicle crashes, as when drunk, fatigued and distracted drivers are involved, but sometimes it may be the road design itself that is negligent.

Crashes involving motor vehicles impose a great burden on this nation. More than 30,000 individuals die every year in crashes across the country and almost four million are injured. 24 million vehicles are damaged in these crashes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the federal agency that is responsible for vehicle safety, has estimated that the harm caused by these crashes works out to $800 for each person in the U.S. annually.

They based their numbers on the calculation of $836 billion in economic loss and societal harm caused by these crashes, which "include productivity losses, property damage, medical and rehabilitation costs, congestion costs, legal and court costs, emergency services, insurance administration costs, and the costs to employers, among others."

Drunk Driving

There are many contributors to crashes on the streets and highways of Tennessee and throughout the nation. Drunk driving is still a major problem. In 2014, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported that just under 10,000 people died nationwide in alcohol-impaired crashes.

While this is an improvement from the levels of the 1970s and 1980s, it is still a horrific death toll. In Tennessee, the CDC reports 3,423 people were killed by a drunk driver between 2003 and 2012.


At one time, there was a public service campaign to raise awareness of the threat posed to drivers from speeding. Its message was very simple: Speed Kills. While that message is old, it is still true.

More than 20 percent of the total economic cost and social harm were from crashes that involved a driver traveling faster than the posted speed limit. Because of the forces released when a speeding vehicle strikes a stationary object or another vehicle, these crashes often cause catastrophic injuries or fatalities.

NHTSA also included distraction, which has become a more significant problem due to the widespread use of cellphones, but distraction includes any activity that causes a driver to become inattentive to the road. Drivers have been observed applying makeup, reading newspapers and other printed material, distracted by eating, smoking or even conversation with passengers.

Highway design

Poorly designed or obsolete highways can also contribute deadly crashes. One reason why interstate highways are generally safer is that the traffic moves at a uniform speed, usually along level roadbeds with gentle curves and controlled-access intersections.

Older roads were often little more that paved horse paths, complete with sharp turns, many curves and large numbers of hills, which impair the driver's ability to see the road ahead and all of which make traveling at anything above the speed of a horse dangerous.

Even interstates have dangers

Especially when they end. In most cases, exit ramps see modest traffic volume and most of it clears the intersection long before vehicles can intrude back to the traffic lanes. But not always. Near Nashville, the I-40 westbound exit 172 ramp was the scene of a deadly crash this June when a six-vehicle collision left a former Marine dead and closed 10 miles of I-40 while a chemical-carrying truck was cleaned up at the crash site.

The ramp, like many urban locations, ends on a road which connects other side roads with gas stations, hotels and restaurants. Because these side roads often have stoplights with left turn signals, the light cycles can be long, and during rush hour, traffic may be stuck at numerous lights.

This appears to the issue at exit 172, with traffic gridlocked on Highway 46. From the news reports, it is unclear how the crash occurred, but the description of the collision of two trucks seems to suggest that the one truck driver may have been distracted and failed to slow in time for the traffic backup.

TDOT had been working to "fix" the problem of vehicles backing up into the traffic lanes on I-40 west. The intersection had been scheduled for bidding on construction to begin next summer, but the deadly accident has apparently convinced them they need to act sooner.

With one deadly crash demonstrating the risk, the liability of those responsible for the intersection design and operation of the traffic lights has substantially increased. If you are involved in a vehicle crash, you want your attorney to examine all of the potential contributors to your collision, to ensure that a potentially responsible party is not missed and that you receive adequate compensation for your damage.