How trial lawyers made American pedestrians less safe

Michael Lewyn writes:

In recent decades, American state and local highway officials have built wide streets and roads designed primarily to accommodate high-speed automobile traffic. However, such high-speed streets are more dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists than streets with slower traffic, and thus fail to adequately accommodate nondrivers. Government officials design streets for high-speed traffic partially because of their fear of tort liability. An influential street engineering manual, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ Green Book, has generally favored the construction of such high-speed streets, and transportation planners fear that if they fail to follow the Green Book’s recommendations, they are more likely to be held negligent if a speeding driver is injured on a street designed for relatively slow traffic.

Changes in the Green Book may ameliorate such design considerations in the future.


  • This post is extremely intellectually dishonest. First, you omitted the most important sentence in the abstract — “This article argues that such fears [about being held liable] are no longer well-founded.”

    The post title is also highly misleading, in that it unfairly blames any “unsafety” on lawyers. Lawyers didn’t write the Green Book. The title should read “American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials made American pedestrians less safe.”

    Or, alternately, it could read “American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials made American drivers more safe,” since the Green Book apparently puts driver safety over pedestrian safety. Whether that’s a wise decision is obviously a matter of policy, but according to this article there is some real benefit to the “high speed” road designs.

    disclosure- I am a lawyer, but I never have litigated a traffic case. (And hopefully never will!)

  • Your personal insults are inappropriate and incorrect, and it is your comment that is intellectually dishonest. My post title spoke in the past tense (which accurately characterizes the article), my concluding line noted that the problem would be less of a problem in the future, and I linked to the full piece for readers to judge for themselves.

    Litigation brought by trial lawyers blaming road designers for not following the Green Book had exactly the effect I describe. The Green Book had no authority until litigation created that authority. Given that trial lawyers regularly falsely claim that litigation is about improving safety, counterexamples that demonstrate that litigation is about finding deep pockets to retroactively blame for misfortune even when safety is adversely affected are important.

  • To the extent that I offended you, I apologize. However, I do not think that my comments warrant taking offense. I said the “post” was dishonest and the “post title” was misleading. I didn’t say “Ted Frank is a liar” or anything like it, and nothing in my comment was factually incorrect.

    It is simply my opinion that, if the Green Book is poorly written or creates unsafe conditions, it would make more sense to blame the people who wrote the Green Book.

  • The Green Book doesn’t create unsafe conditions; city-planners forced by trial lawyers to follow the Green Book upon pain of liability creates unsafe conditions.

    The accusations of dishonesty were factually incorrect.