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Government Responsibility for Highway Defects

Programs and educational campaigns that are designed to keep on reminding drivers about the importance of observing road safety rules, as well as laws that will help reduce the number of car accidents and keep injuries minor, are constantly created and implemented by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Though drivers are the primary targets of these programs (because records show that about 90% of car crashes are due to driver error), the NHTSA makes sure that all others who can affect road safety comply with safety standards, like car manufacturers, or are provided their needed guidance and assistance, like state and local government agencies, specifically those that are responsible in the construction and maintenance of roads. This is due to the fact that drivers are not the only ones at fault in car crashes; car manufacturers and agencies involved in the construction and maintenance of roads, highways, bridges, interchanges and other related structures, can also, at times, be held accountable in road accidents.

Specifically providing support to “State and local governments in the design, construction, and maintenance of the Nation’s highway system” is the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), an agency within the US Department of Transportation. Through the FHWA’s Federal Aid Highway Program, financial and technical assistance are extended to State and local governments, to help ensure that “America’s roads and highways continue to be among the safest and most technologically sound in the world.”

This is because construction and maintenance of roads and highways are the responsibilities of States, municipalities and cities. These branches of the government are expected to construct safe and technologically sound roadways, as well as repair highway defects, like missing or poorly constructed guardrails, poorly lighted streets, traffic signs blocked by trees or other fixtures, wrong or missing road signs, lack of railroad crossing lights, roadway debris, uneven pavement, and potholes.

Drivers, who fail to notice potholes or roadway debris and drive over these, can lose control of their vehicle and possibly end up in an accident. States, however, are said to be immune from any form of liability, despite injuries during an accident. This immunity is based on the doctrine called “government immunity” or “sovereign immunity.”

Despite the great difficulty in suing the government and holding it liable for all the damages and losses suffered by a victim due to the need to prove that it is guilty of gross negligence, there is nothing that says it cannot be done.

On its website, the Sampson Law Firm strongly emphasizes that victims of car accidents, whether due to careless drivers, vehicle defects, or dangerous roadways, should not have to pay for the costs of a car accident that occurred through no fault of their own.