Most drivers avoid potholes wherever and however much possible. But others face the problem head-on. For a living. And for laughs.
In April – a prime time for potholes in the wake of late winter/early spring freeze-thaw cycles – a character known as the Pothole Dummy plied the streets of Chicago to see how many potholes he could run over in a five-day stretch. He was successful: 1,110 hits were made over 255 miles, which works out to 4.35 potholes per mile.
Why do such a thing? It was a publicity stunt by Advance Auto Parts, the national retailer serving the aftermarket car-repair industry. Together with parts manufacturers Moog (steering and suspension) and Monroe (shocks and struts), the Dummy sponsors outfitted a 2009 Dodge Charger that already had 100,000 miles under its chassis. New struts and shocks were put on the undercarriage as a way to test their resilience to the abuse.
And boy did they have fun. Take a look at the highlights videos on the Pothole Dummy webpage.
We count the program a success on several points:
Humor – The campaign has multiple videos of the Pothole Dummy himself, comedian Daniel Strauss, who seems to relish the bounces as he hits the deepest potholes he can find. He has guest passengers that include Chicago Bears football players. Potholes in the hypothetical, happening to someone else, are funny (but less so in reality).
Effective PR – The Chicago Tribune, the Minneapolis Egotist, and other news outlets covered the story. Additionally, Strauss had media personalities ride along with him to enjoy (?) the bumpy ride and to stream or live tweet their adventures.
Public service/education – The message throughout is about the cumulative cost of potholes to American motorists, which is $3 billion per year. The program also provides advice on how to do a diagnostic test by feeling how the steering wheel responds after a few hard pothole hits, or do a bounce test, pushing the car down on its corners to see if it springs back in one or two bounces, how to do a “drive park” test to check for buckling in the suspension system, and with the car jacked off the ground how to feel for looseness in a wheel that can indicate bearing problems.
Surprisingly, the car sensor-scoreboard reflected that over five days the “average pothole severity” scored about a 2.2 out of 5. This may be due to the relatively mild winter in the upper Midwest, courtesy of El Niño weather conditions in 2015-2016.
Chicago drivers may beg to differ. Because the only pothole that matters is the one that blew your tire out on your way to work this morning.