It is only late-January, but given the weather patterns of late, potholes are cropping up unusually early across the metro area. With another round of snow and plunging temperatures earlier this week, conditions are perfect for forming potholes. It’s the yo-yo effect. In the freeze-thaw cycle, tiny cracks in road surfaces become craters and crevices overnight, and openings in the asphalt crumble and become clefts in the subsurface. Area roadways are “worse for wear.” Rough roads and potholes are cropping up everywhere. “Fasten your seat belts, we are in for a bumpy ride” (actually, Bette Davis’ oft-misquoted line in “All about Eve” ends “it’s going to be a bumpy night).
Without fail, crews with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) patch around 218,000 “hubcap-rattling potholes” statewide each year. The District has patched nearly 400,000 potholes since 2009. Maryland spends $4 million patching potholes yearly, up from $2.5 million per year from 2010 to 2015. Americans spend $3 billion per year on average to repair pothole-related damages to their vehicles.
- American drivers paid an average of $300 each to repair pothole-related damages to their vehicles in 2017, AAA estimated.
- The wear and tear on vehicles caused by potholes and road cracks will set-back the average American driver $523 annually in extra vehicle and road maintenance costs, according to research by TRIP.
- One in five –twenty percent – of drivers in the northeast report sustaining vehicle damage that required repair as a result of hitting a pothole at least once in the last five years, AAA calculates.
Giving testimony to the havoc caused by a proliferation of potholes: Blown tires, dented rims, damaged wheels, dislodged wheel weights, displaced struts, dislocated shock absorbers, and damaged exhaust systems. Other telltale signs include misaligned steering systems, and ruptured ball joints.
“Driving over potholes formed by weather extremes and heavy traffic can damage a tire’s internal steel belts and force it ‘to go out of round.’ This negatively impacts your ability to drive comfortably and safely,” said James Moore, Manager, AAA Mid-Atlantic Car Care Center. “Running into a pothole can lead to irregular tire wear and tear, vehicle vibration and imbalance, wobbling and loss of control.”
Ever wonder what happens to your car when you hit a big pothole? As you can imagine, the deep impact can cause your vehicle to shake violently. Here is the link to a slow motion video by Warped Perception that “demonstrates how potholes actually impact a car’s chassis and suspension upon impact.” The sudden jolt of a collision with large potholes at highway speeds can send drivers and vehicle occupants pogoing, and cause “impact pain,” some researchers posit.
Drivers are urged to refrain from swerving to avoid potholes. Swerving into the opposite lane, or to the right, could cause a collision with a child, pedestrian or cyclist, or trigger a crash with another vehicle or into fixed objects or obstacles. Like motorists, pedestrians, motorcyclists, cyclists, Segway riders, dockless electric scooter (e-scooter) riders and skateboarders must stay alert and keep their eyes peeled for potholes in the road. Risks include “lacerations, abrasions, and head injuries.” Pedestrians can sustain injuries by tripping over or stumbling into potholes, especially deep ones camouflaged by puddles, resulting in “sprained or broken wrists and ankles.”
Cyclists are also at risk of head injuries and broken bones as a result of being thrown off a bicycle or “catapulted over the handlebars” in a pothole-related crash. The results of a questionnaire of 5,000 cyclists in England and Wales conducted by Cycling UK revealed almost half of participating respondents report hitting a pothole, “with 54 percent (1,516) slightly injured and 8 percent (207) seriously injured.” The results, released in 2018, also found “600 (40 percent) of those had to take time off from work due to injuries, with 200 off work for more than a week.”
Car drivers have three incidents of pothole damage yearly. It behooves drivers to avoid rough roads, deep holes, and road craters, or potholes seemingly as large as the Aitken basin on the far side of the moon.
Spot or Hit a Pothole? Who Are You Going to Call?
- District of Columbia residents and commuters are encouraged to continue reporting potholes by contacting the Mayor’s Call Center at 311 in any of the following ways—calling 311, visiting online at 311.dc.gov, or by using the DC311 smartphone application.
- The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and its “interstate maintenance contractors are responsible for patching potholes on the 58,000 miles of state-maintained roadways in the commonwealth.” Motorists are encouraged to call 1-800-FOR-ROAD (1-800-367-7623) to report any road maintenance issues.
- The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) crews maintain 17,824 lane miles of the state’s highways and toll roads. Drivers can report potholes on state numbered roadways (such as 355, route 28, I- 270, etc.) to the Maryland State Highway Administration at 301-513-7300.
It’s as simple as “1, 2, 3.” The word “pothole” was coined in 1826 to describe a “geological feature in glaciers and gravel beds.” The prefix “pot” described “a deep hole for a mine.” By 1909, the idiom was applied to “pesky pits in roads.” Today, potholes are the bane of our existence and an existential threat to all.
- Nearly 23 percent of public roads in Virginia are in poor condition. In its $5.4 billion FY19 budget, VDOT allotted $2.2 billion for road maintenance and operations, which includes the cost of pothole repairs.
- Annual spending on potholes patching doubled in Maryland, from an estimated $2 million in 2008 to $4 million per year by 2017. The Maryland SHA spends approximately $95 to repair a single pothole.
- More than 381,000 potholes were patched and filled by pothole repair crews with the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) during the city’s annual “Potholepalooza” campaigns from 2009 to 2018. DDOT patched 19,760 potholes in its 2018 Potholepalooza campaign.
Roadways with high traffic volume are particularly prone to pothole formation, transportation officials warn. “Bridges and ramps, which receive heavy doses of snow-removal chemicals, are more prone to potholes,” explains VDOT. “The areas most prone to pothole development are where drainage is poor (particularly where roads dip, such as the trough under viaducts), where vehicular traffic is greatest – especially heavy vehicle traffic – and where poor maintenance allows small fissures to deteriorate,” explains Pothole.info. When pothole or rust damage occurs, it is imperative to choose a reputable repair facility, including AAA Car Care Centers and AAA Approved Auto Repair (AAR) facilities across the region.
AAA provides automotive, travel, and insurance services to 59 million members nationwide and nearly 80,000 members in the District of Columbia. AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years. AAA is a non-stock, non-profit corporation working on behalf of motorists, who can now map a route, find local gas prices, discover discounts, book a hotel, and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app (AAA.com/mobile) for iPhone, iPad and Android. For more information, visit www.AAA.com.