What are potholes?
Potholes are holes in the roadway that vary in shape and size and are a result of water and traffic being present at the same time. Water weakens soil beneath the pavement, while traffic applies pressure that causes the pavement to crack and become unstable.
How many potholes are there in the country?
The total number of dangerous potholes on local roads that need attention and have been reported to local authorities stands at a whopping 100,249 according to a study carried out by This is Money.
What causes them?
According to a survey carried out by the Asphalt Industry Alliance in March 2013, the UK's road surfaces are deteriorating due to a combination of being extremely busy and historically harsh winters with high rainfall, which has exacerbated small crater-like cracks and holes in the asphalt of the roads.
Potholes are costing drivers an extortionate £1.7 billion in repairs to their cars per year and the reduced public infrastructure means that the amount spent by local authorities on repairs to roads is rising.
What can you, the driver, do to avoid potholes?
A study carried out by Which? in 2015 revealed that seven in ten drivers hit potholes.
The good news is that by remembering the three “Ps” below – Preparation, Perception and Poise - you can combat these hazards and repair costs, protecting yourself, as well as your tyres and reducing the risk of damage in the form of punctures and ruptured suspensions on your vehicle.
Prepare your tyres: Are your tyres roadworthy? Are you checking them enough to make sure? Carrying out regular checks on your tyres around once month is solely your responsibility and these simple checks can solve a number of vehicle maintenance issues before they arise.
As the only part of your vehicle that is in constant contact with the road, tyres are the components that decline at the fastest rate. Over time, their internal air pressure will inevitably decrease and this can reduce stopping distances, steering response and vehicle stability. As well as putting yourself in danger, these factors can affect fuel economy and CO2 emissions and also make a puncture from the jagged edge or sharp lid of a pothole more likely.
Ensuring your tyres are inflated to the pressure recommended by the manufacturer of your vehicle is therefore of even more importance if you travel on poor road surfaces. It’s important to get the balance right though, as pumping them up too much cab be equally problematic. In addition to compromised traction and handling, over-inflation results in tyres vulnerable to overheating and uneven tread wear, which makes them more susceptible to ruptures on any abrupt impact.
Watch your windscreen: A forceful jolt received by a car or van going over a large pothole is also enough to cause significant and possibly irreversible damage to a windscreen that already has a chip or small crack. It’s best to seek advice from a trained professional if there are any signs of even minor blemishes on your windscreen.
To round up then, if you keep your vehicle properly maintained, you can reduce the chances of damage to your car.
A potential hazard can be anything from an unaware pedestrian or child stepping out in the road, a car exiting a driveway or in this case, a pothole.
The earlier you observe and pre-empt a hazard the better and reacting sensibly to continually changing situations on the road ahead is an essential part of road safety and ensuring the smoothest journey possible.
If you travel on the same route on a regular basis, it might be an idea to make a mental note of the roads in your area that are in poor condition. Industrial estates and areas used by a lot of HGVs are notorious for potholes, so keep an eye out for them if you encounter these types of roads. If you’re travelling on less familiar roads, a bumpy and louder ride than usual, can be a warning sign of poor quality road surfaces.
How can you take precautions against these hazards?
• Consider changing road position, speed and gear when appropriate
• Extend your field of vision as far into the distance as possible to allow you to become aware of scars in the road surface and plan your drive accordingly
• In advance and only if safe to do so, in a way that does not pose a threat to other road users, manoeuvre out of the way of potholes
• Maintain a sensible distance between yourself and other traffic
• Be aware of cars slowing down or changing course due to potholes
• Select a lower gear and take it steady on badly maintained roads
Once you identify potentially dangerous potholes, an active yet measured approach is essential. Being able to keep your poise when confronted by a highway of rough or even genuinely dangerous quality, of course, arises from looking well ahead and being able to formulate a plan to deal with hazards in good time.
You'll need to consider the below 3 factors when dealing with potholes:
1. Road type
3. Traffic conditions
Imagine you’re driving down a quiet residential street with a 20mph speed limit and no oncoming traffic in good weather conditions. Swerving to avoid a pothole may be a reasonable course of action to take in this situation.
Now imagine an encounter with a pothole on motorway; swerving to avoid it would be extremely dangerous. As well as endangering yourself and other drivers by losing control of the car, hitting the edge of the hole at an oblique angle can have a far greater effect on your tyre, wheel rim and steering alignment than going straight over it.
Now imagine encountering a pothole in poor weather conditions. Slippery roads caused by rain, snow or ice can increase stopping distance and lead to harsh braking, which is the worst thing a driver can do when approaching a pothole. As well as being dangerous for the vehicles behind, pressing the brake pedal severely (and continuing to press it as you go over the hole) has the effect of compressing the front-end suspension system of your car or van. You are therefore more susceptible to the impact of potholes, despite travelling at a lower speed.
On today's roads, it is almost impossible to steer clear of potholes all the time, but reducing your speed and maintaining your poise will help you steer clear of dangerous situations, and prevent your vehicle from enduring any severe damages.