Safe Driving on Roads with Potholes and Avoiding Pothole Damage
We have all been confronted by poor road conditions and the threat of the dreaded pothole. It is especially on our rural roads and after the rainy seasons that the road surface comes under pressure and the cracks and holes in the road surface start to appear.
In some areas, the road authorities are fast to respond swiftly with road repairs, in others, it may take months if not years to repair our roads.
If you are to drive off our highways - expect that NO amount of preparation can prevent exposure to potholes.
We would like to compile some guidance on how to deal with potholes to avoid additional damage and event the risk of road crashes.
The Road Safety Threat posed by Potholes
The threats from potholes can be more severe than merely a financial risk. We have witnessed crash reports of even fatal crashes caused by head-on collisions directly related to potholes. Sometimes a driver may swerve in front of oncoming traffic after losing control of his vehicle, having driven through a pothole or other drivers may over-correct while attempting to avoid a pothole!
The vehicle damage mostly expected is described correctly by Accuweather as follows:
- One or more deflated tyres
- Severe cracks or bulges in the tyres
- Dents in the wheel rims
- The vehicle shaking and pulling to the left or right, which could indicate an alignment problem
- Fluid leaks, which may mean your undercarriage is damaged
- Odd noises coming from the exhaust system
Where and When are the Biggest Risks presented by Potholes?
Potholes are most commonly found on rural roads, those roads between smaller towns where the road maintenance falls under the control of the local authorities. They are also often found in residential areas where road maintenance has been neglected and where trucks often pass to make deliveries to shopping centres in those areas.
Be especially cautious:
- On Wet Roads: When driving on wet roads and where you see puddles. Potholes may look like puddles when the roadway is wet. If you must drive over a puddle, treat it as though it may be a pothole. Otherwise, avoid driving over wet spaces on the road.
- Driving at Night: At night visibility is reduced and you may be blinded by the headlights of oncoming vehicles reducing your ability to clearly identify a pothole.
- In Areas with Poor Street Lighting: Lighting may be reduced by power outages, load shedding or even crime. Be extra cautious where you may not clearly observe the condition of the road surface far beyond the vehicle.
- Where you see Warning Signs: Warning signs may be by traffic signs indicating road maintenance. It may also be patches of gravel on the roads as a quick-fix solution covering potholes. Remember that when there is or was one, there may be more potholes!
Vehicle Fitness for Driving on Roads with Potholes
What can we do in terms of vehicle fitness/roadworthiness when driving in areas with potholes?
- Ensure your tyres are inflated according to the manufacturer’s requirements. A properly inflated tyre creates a cushion of air between a pothole and a vehicle. An under-inflated tyre may not have enough resistance to withstand the impact of a pothole. Monitor the tyre pressure and condition to ensure they are ready for the rigours of the road.
- Keep the Suspension Well Maintained - If you notice a problem with the suspension such as uneven tyre wear, consult with the experts. Suspension problems can make damage from a pothole more severe and more expensive.
- Be Visible - See and Be Seen. Ensure that you have a clear vision to the surface of the roads. Keep your windscreen/ windshield clean and the window wipers in effective working condition for driving in the rain and on wet roads.
- Lights and Lighting: Your headlights must allow you optimal lighting and visibility ahead of the vehicle. Have them tested regularly!
Maintain your vehicle and keep it roadworthy at all times! Money spent on preventative measures is often less expensive than repair afterwards.
Safe Driving Techniques to Prevent Crashes from striking Potholes
Even though you might not always be able to avoid driving through a pothole, defensive driving measures may reduce the severity of damage and prevent a nasty collision!
- Defensive driving includes an awareness of where other traffic is before swerving to avoid the pothole.
- Allow yourself the time and space to respond swiftly at the sight of a pothole on the road!
- While driving be observant and look out for potholes. Avoid driving distracted! Sometimes being aware that one is coming gives the driver enough time to avoid hitting it.
- Reduce Speed/ Slow Down when driving at night, in poor visibility and on wet roads.
- Slow down when you see the road is poorly maintained - where there is one there may be more potholes.
- Increase your following distance to the vehicle ahead of you: The 3 Second following distance may not be enough, especially when following trucks and other heavier vehicles who may obscure your vision to the road ahead. The pothole may appear too quickly for swift and effective response.
- Speed matters! If you cannot avoid a pothole, you can minimize damage by slowing down before you hit it. The faster you drive; the more damage is likely. You do need to slow down without creating a hazard, so check to see if anyone is following close behind you, approaching you or may be in your blind spot!
- If you’re forced to drive over a pothole, slow down and treat it as a speedbump to steer clear of tyre, rim or undercarriage damage.
- Don’t break directly over the pothole as this can actually cause more damage. Slow down prior to going over the pothole.
- Hold your steering wheel firmly while driving over a pothole, to avoid losing control over the car.
- Do not be overly aggressive in your steering changes - it is better to drive over a pothole than cause a head-on crash or a side-swipe collision!
Share Roads with Caution
It is very important to consider other road users on roads with pothole risks. Sudden change in direction may be deadly especially for our most vulnerable road users.
Among the crash reports on the Arrive Alive website, we have found numerous examples of injury and death to pedestrians and cyclists where drivers have lost control of their vehicles due to potholes on the road.
- Consider the risks of potholes to cyclists and bikers. They may need to change direction suddenly- Slow down and be ready to give cyclists more space than the recommended 1.5 metres.
- Be cautious of oncoming vehicles - a sudden directional steering change on your part may result in an incorrect corrective measure from their side as well.
- Do not drive right on the centre line - approaching vehicles might also decide to avoid a pothole by moving to the middle of the road.
- Avoid anything that might distract your attention from driving - a distraction may prevent you from making the correct split-second decision to either avoid the pothole or to prevent colliding with someone else making an evasive manoeuvre.
Report Potholes - If you notice a severe pothole, call your local city or municipal department of transportation to report it. This will help them address the problem more quickly before others fall victim to the pothole.