Survival Guide: Navigating the Most Treacherous Road Hazards

There are many different hazard types and learning what they are supplies a driver with a tool to drive safely. Road hazards are responsible for many motor vehicle accidents.

Top 10 Dangerous Road Hazards

While driver error is still the number one cause, road hazards are a real danger. Liability for road hazards is complex in some instances, involving government agencies and construction companies. In some situations, a road hazard can lead to catastrophic injuries or a fatal accident. Let’s explore the top 10 road hazards that drivers are likely to encounter.

Shoulder Edge Drop-Off

A shoulder edge drop-off is one where the height of the shoulder is different from that of the paved road. For instance, if the road is resurfaced but the height of the shoulder is not raised to be even with the paved surface, a drop-off can be created. Drop-offs also occur on shoulders that are unpaved. This type can be caused by rutting or soil erosion especially when road maintenance is not performed.
When a driver accidently encounters a shoulder edge drop-off, their first thought is to get back in the paved lane. The greater the height distance between the paved road and the shoulder, the more likely the driver will overreact. The driver may move abruptly back into the travel lane and strike another vehicle. The driver’s loss of control could also result in a rollover with an accompanying crush roof injury or driver ejection. In addition, the vehicle may impact an obstacle beyond the shoulder such as a tree. Speed is an important factor in terms of controlling the vehicle. Naturally, the faster the vehicle is moving, the greater the risk the driver will lose control when encountering a shoulder edge drop-off. Smaller passenger cars, trucks and motorcycles all have a bigger problem with shoulder-edge drop-offs.

Water Puddles

On rainy days or when ice and snow has melted and left large puddles in the roadway, it presents a hazard to motorists, especially on highways. A vehicle traveling at a higher speed through a puddle can cause the water spray to strike the vehicles on either side. When this spray lands on a motorist’s windshield, it can obscure the driver’s vision and lead to an accident. In addition, driving through a puddle can cause water to enter the engine bay, allowing it to be sucked into the air intakes and enter the cylinders. This results in hydrolock causing the pistons to lock and a stalled engine. Another problem is when water enters the brake lines. The vehicle begins to shake when the brakes are applied. Ultimately this can cause brake failure.


Potholes form when the road deteriorates due to bad weather and traffic pushes the broken pavement aside. In time, a crater is formed. This crater or pothole can cause havoc as car wheels hit a pothole, or a driver swerves to miss one. It can result in engine and tire damage as well as cause problems with the steering system and suspension. In addition, hitting a pothole can cause a tire to burst or result in a rollover accident. Motorcyclists and bicyclists are most at risk for injury from potholes. The edge of the pothole can push the motorcycle’s tire sideways or bend the wheel rim. Since motorcycles have less stability than vehicles with four wheels, hitting a pothole can result in the biker being thrown from his or her bike. This can result in serious injuries and fatalities. Government agencies in charge of repairing potholes can be held legally responsible if an accident occurs due to the presence of a pothole. This is especially true if the pothole has been in the location for a reasonable amount of time and has not been repaired.

Lack of Guardrails

Guardrails are designed to keep vehicles from going off the roadway, perhaps over a deep drop, or to keep them from crossing the centerline, which could cause a head on collision. They consist of the posts, anchoring system, guardrail face and end terminal. When a vehicle strikes a guardrail, the end terminal absorbs the energy of the crash and slows the vehicle down. Missing center guardrails mean that a drowsy driver may pass over the centerline without slowing down. A driver who loses control of a vehicle may go off the roadway and crash into a tree, ravine or other obstacle. Aging guardrails are also a problem because they do not provide the safety measures of newer ones. The Federal Highway Administration has recommended that these older guardrails be scrutinized and replaced if they are incapable of performing well in a crash.

Improper Lighting

Adequate road lighting helps a motorist see the area in front of the vehicle and to the side clearly. It also helps them see pedestrians, bicycle riders and others who are crossing a road or walking along the edge. Improper lighting places the driver and others in peril. The basis for lighting along streets and roads in the United States was established in 1972 by the Engineering Society of North America. Those standards have not changed. A study performed in 1971 on the relationship between roadway crashes and luminescence showed a direct correlation between the number of accidents and presence of adequate lighting. The study showed that motor vehicle crashes were lower by 40 percent in areas where lighting was adequate.

Construction Zones

Passing through construction zones in California and elsewhere is common, and they are among the most dangerous of road hazards. Confusing signage, narrowing lanes, moving equipment, traffic cones and workers in the roadway all present dangers. In construction zones, speed limits are commonly lowered, which can result in a rear-end accident for the unwary driver. Accidents caused by a speeding or careless motorist are common. A driver may try to beat out other traffic by driving on the shoulder when lanes are narrowed down or speed through the construction site, which endangers workers and other motorists. Accidents involving work crews and heavy equipment often cause serious injuries or fatalities. If warning signs and other appropriate cautionary measures are not taken in a construction zone, the contractor as well as the government agency in charge can be held responsible for the accident, and a lawsuit can be lodged against them.

Lack of Signage

Lack of signage, whether on a city street or highway, can lead to accidents. Many accidents are caused by lack of adequate signage at on and off ramps, which can lead to a head on collision if the driver enters incorrectly. Lack of adequate warning signs for exits can cause a driver to make a dangerous attempt to change lanes to avoid a collision and strike other vehicles. It is also necessary to place signs at an adequate distance from construction areas to warn motorists. Missing signs at intersections or those that have been overgrown by foliage or damaged and not replaced are other causes of traffic accidents. Public agencies that are responsible for the design and construction of roads along with proper placement of signs can be held responsible for an accident.

Oil Slicks

Oil slicks on roadways present a hazard to any motorist but especially to someone on a motorcycle. Motorcycle riders are more at risk of losing control of their vehicle because it has only two wheels and is not as well balanced as one with four. It is also riskier for motorcycle riders when they are out during rainy weather. Because oil rises to the top when mixed with water, the rider may not spot the hazard until it is too late to react. A motorcycle that spins out due to an oil slick faces serious injury in this type of accident, particularly at highway speeds.

Bridge Supports

Concrete bridge pillars are a common location for single vehicle accidents. Speed, driver distraction and other forms of negligence can lead to this type of collision. The size of the opening between the pillars can also affect the incidence of accidents, since many bridges are quite old and were designed for the passage of smaller vehicles. Although bridge support accidents can happen during daylight hours, a poorly lighted area can contribute to collisions with bridge pillars after nightfall.

Blind Curves

A blind curve is one where the motorist cannot see oncoming traffic. This is a common cause of head on collisions and rear end accidents at higher speeds. Some roads are constructed by following the natural layout of the land, and this can lead to dips in the road and blind curves. Both are dangerous for drivers because they obstruct the driver’s vision of an oncoming vehicle or slow moving one ahead. Country roads present more of a danger of blind curves for motorists, which is amplified by the possibility of animals in the roadway as well as bicycle riders or pedestrians. It is important for warning signage to be placed at a proper distance before the curve so drivers can moderate their speed before entering it.

Knowing about the road hazards that pose considerable danger to motorists is one way for drivers to avoid accidents. However, a driver must always stay alert for unforeseeable problems such as a construction vehicle entering their lane. Staying alert while motoring and monitoring changes in the road are things a driver needs to do. If an accident does happen, the insight of an experienced attorney is helpful in determining who or what was at fault and in obtaining the damages the injured party deserves.