Oakland Lawsuit Raises Awareness of Dangerous Roads

January 31, 2013

127542_the_oakland_press.jpgThe family of Cesar Sopelario recently settled a wrongful death lawsuit with the city of Oakland for $500,000. This settlement has garnered the attention of road safety advocates throughout the nation, pushing for increased awareness of dangerous and deadly roads.

In 2007, Cesar Sopelario was killed while navigating a turn along 35th avenue and Redwood Road, near Highway 13. The curve is notorious among Oakland residents, who requested the road be fixed many times before the deadly accident. Oakland officials knew the road needs work, but struggled to find the money for the job. Some locals even refer to the road as a ski jump, because there have been at least ten accidents in the past few years.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration determined that dangerous roads, such as the one that took Sopelario's life, cause about 8,000 deaths every year. That is nearly 23% of all traffic-related fatalities. The agency also found that young, male drivers are more likely than any other demographic to speed on any given trip. Adding in factors like speeding and impaired driving to already dangerous roads means more and more lives are ending prematurely.

The agency is constantly reviewing information from many different sources to identify potential safety threats. Mississippi in particular has almost 27 road deaths per 100,000 residents, mostly due to the state's unusually dangerous roads. Such of the dangers include unlit rural roads, high speed limits, and an overwhelming failure of seatbelt usage.

One report by Dateline compiled federal data spanning five years of fatal crashes in the United States. Dateline found that many roads were built without any pedestrian considerations, with unsafe crossings and total lack of sidewalks and streetlights. Queens Boulevard in New York City was once one of these infamous roadways, killing one person every six weeks at one point. The city responded to calls for actions, implementing warning signs, re-timed traffic lights, and fences to discourage jaywalking. Pedestrian fatalities decrease sharply, to about one per year.

Another success story Oakland residents are pointing to is the transformation of Interstate 19, once known as the worst road in the country. County commissioner Karen Seel in Pinellas County, Florida finally decided to do something about it, forming a task force and twisting the arms of state legislators and local residents to raise the money required to fix it. The project required $350 million, just in Pinellas County, and after five years of heavy construction, the Interstate was dramatically changed. The project resulted in a new bridge and overpass, the eradication of signalized intersections, and new two-lane frontage roads on both sides of the Interstate.

Dangerous roads can present an array of hazards, such as potholes, lack of dividers, improper signage, extreme weather conditions, severe curves, and narrow lanes. Even more alarming is that many drivers do not fully realize how dangerous these roads can be. Safety efforts such as additional lanes, wider shoulders, and rumble strips provide some answers, but many cities don't have money in the budget for such extensive measures. Some believe that too much federal money was pumped into the Interstate system, and not enough into upgrading and maintaining smaller, more hazardous roads.

Cesar Sopelario was a 21-year-old college student whose death was preventable. Oakland council members have a long list of solutions for the dangerous road, including flashing arrows and a metal barrier, but the real solution may be to re-align the road to eradicate the deadly turn altogether. Oakland simply doesn't have the money, and was recently denied a federal stimulus grant. The city plans to reapply for the grant, however, there are about 20 other locations throughout Oakland that require attention before the turn that took Sopelario's life.

Auto accident lawyers at Pintas & Mullins hope that Oakland fixes its deadly roadways. If you or someone you love was seriously hurt or killed a preventable car accident, you have important legal rights, and should consider contacting an experienced attorney.