Collapsing traffic signs pose hazard to motorists

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Fallen traffic sign

Though it's a relatively rare incident, people should be aware that collapsing traffic signs do pose a danger. Photo Credit: Woodley Wonder Works/Flickr/CC-BY

There are many dangers one must confront while driving, not least of which are the other cars on the road. There are also large critters in some parts of the country, weather events and also collapsing road signs, which give way and land on unsuspecting driver’s cars.

Texas claims tort immunity in case of collapsing traffic signs

Recently, according to AutoBlog, a Texas woman recently got the cold shoulder from the state of Texas when she tried to get the state to pony up after a piece of state property caused significant damage to her car. Stephanie Hawkins was stopped at a traffic light in her Lexus SUV, with her daughter in the car, when she felt a rumble.

Thinking she’d been rear-ended by another car, she got out of the vehicle, only to find a traffic sign had fallen on the car. She filed a claim with the Texas Department of Transportation after getting an estimate of $2,792 for repairs.

The state responded by asserting that the Texas Tort Claims Act and the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity nullifies any liability for collapsing traffic signs and therefore, that she could pack sand.

Other signs of falling signs

The response of the state of Texas may seem harsh and it almost smacks of leaning on legal privilege to avoid admitting not enough was done to keep motorists safe. After all, if someone had just left an dealership with a brand new Accord and a collapsing road sign took out the front bumper, they certainly would not be amused. However, the DOT investigated the incident and determined it wasn’t their fault. They also reinforced the base of the sign in question with concrete.

Texas is not the only state with collapsing traffic signs. Two incidents of large road signs collapsing on major highways in Virginia occurred this year, one in Prince George County and another in Fairfax County, according to a video on KTLA, a Los Angeles CBS affiliate. The video on KTLA is from a broadcast by WTVR, a Richmond, Va., CBS affiliate, and is posted on video galleries on a number of news websites nationwide.

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In both cases, the large cantilevered signs, the kind one sees on major highways, broke free of their moorings and collapsed onto the pavement.

Isolated incidents

In January of 2012, according to the New York Times, an 85-feet-tall billboard located above the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway crashed onto the roadway. There have been arguments since over whether the billboard was even supposed to be there. Another incident of a collapsing traffic sign occurred in Newton, Mass., a suburb of Boston, September 2010, according to WHDH, a Boston, Mass. NBC affiliate. The base of the sign had been noted earlier as being rusted and was slated to be replaced.

Mostly, collapsing traffic signs are isolated incidents. It comes down to what sign is in the right condition to topple and where. However, keeping people on staff to inspect them and installing new signs is expensive. As state budgets get ever thinner and fewer people are willing to pay taxes, maintenance and upkeep become harder to accomplish. The danger is that one never knows which sign in what city is going to go next.




New York Times


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