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If you have been injured in a car accident that involved hitting a utility pole or other object along the side of a road, or experienced a loss of control due to a steep slope along the side of a road, you might have a claim against the governmental entity responsible for the road for unsafe design or maintenance.  The Stritmatter Firm’s experienced road design attorneys have decades of experience handling cases involving dangerous conditions in roadside areas.


The fact that the roadside is part of the road is a fundamental principle of road design.  In engineering terms, the roadside area is called the “clear zone.”  The basic idea is that there should be a sufficient area along the side of the road that is clear of hazards for a driver to be able to recover and get back on the road in the event of a driver leaving the road for whatever reason.

 The Federal Highway Administration defines the “clear zone” as

 The total roadside border area, starting at the edge of the traveled way, available for safe use by errant vehicles.  This area may consist of a shoulder, a recoverable slope, a non-recoverable slope, and/or a clear run-out area.  The desired minimum width is dependent upon traffic volumes and speeds and on the roadside geometry.  Simply stated, it is an unobstructed, relatively flat area beyond the edge of the traveled way that allows a driver to stop safely or regain control of a vehicle that leaves the traveled way.

The required “clear zone” width varies depending on the speed limit on a road.  Sometimes it isn’t possible to have the full clear zone width due to space constraints. 

If there are hazardous objects in the clear zone – such as trees, utility poles, or overpass supports — they are supposed to be removed, or if it isn’t possible to remove them, then they are to be shielded so that errant vehicles don’t hit them.  Objects in the median or shoulder clear zones can be shielded by barriers such as guardrails or concrete barriers.


Governmental entities have a legal duty to design and maintain reasonably safe roads under Washington law.  This duty applies even if the driver is partially at fault for causing a crash.  In Lowman v. Wilbur, 178 Wn.2d 165 (2013), the Supreme Court of Washington ruled that a county and a utility company could be held liable for injuries caused when a driver lost control on a steep, winding hill and hit a utility pole that was less than five feet from the edge of the roadway, resulting in serious injuries to the driver and passenger.


If you or a loved one have been injured because of a dangerous road condition, call The Stritmatter Firm for a free consultation with one of our experienced road design lawyers.