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So Many Potholes, So Much Cost

By May 11, 2016May 16th, 2016No Comments

Potholes are more than a bump in the road, a punch line or a politician’s promises (to fix them). They cost money and lives. just produced a video, posted on YouTube, to illustrate these points. We’ve been reporting on how this damage is caused, what the effects in dollars and injuries are, and how smart pavement management can prevent these problems from ever happening. In video form the public can become aware of the costs that are accumulating in both the private and public sectors. Better yet, we can all do a better job at figuring out how to prevent the damage of potholes before the problems get worse.

See the video here: So many potholes, so much cost

Here are the key points made and some links to where you can read more about them:

Potholes cost American drivers $6.4 billion per year – That’s right, it costs that much for all motorists combined to fix flat tires, bent rims and wheel alignment repairs. But adding insult to injury is the fact that a majority of Americans – 63% – do not have a spare $1,000 available to cover unexpected expenses. It’s bad enough to get a mechanic’s bill of $300 or $800 or $1200 or more, it’s even worse if that expense imposes new debt on a motorist who needs his or her car to get to work.

Fixing crumbling infrastructure would cost taxpayers $2.7 trillion – The American Society of Civil Engineers say, based on their studies, that the cost to fix America’s roads, tunnels and bridges would run to 10 figures. The president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce urges people to consider how resources applied to infrastructure is an investment that supports job creation, work-related transportation and it increases how efficiently businesses can operate.

Every $1 million not spent this year will cost $7 million in five years – We see bad roads everywhere due to maintenance schedules that fail to account for basic physics. Time, temperature, traffic and torrential rain (and even light rain and certainly snow) will take a toll eventually on all pavement, leading to its deterioration. But small cracks are easy to fix, as are potholes, before the four Ts can wreak havoc. In California, a more aggressive approach to maintenance helps keep that famously mobile state running with cost-efficiency.

An impact from a deep pothole can equal the impact of a 35 mph car accident – The sudden hit of a tire – or the car itself – against the hard edges of a road crater can cause all kinds of damages. But it can inflict expenses and injuries in other ways as well: swerving to avoid a pothole can cause car-on-car impacts, or the structure of the tire itself (involving steel belts, rubber and adhesives) might be compromised enough to cause a tire blowout many miles later on smooth surfaces.

Damage to vehicles average $377 per vehicle per year – It’s not just tires, which suffer when a disproportionate amount of the vehicle weight presses against the tire in the second it’s in the pothole. Cars and trucks that hit a pothole can incur the following damages: aluminum rims are bent; scratches and dents to the vehicle body; scratches to the undercarriage that later lead to rust; hoses can be compromised and thus become leaky and cause sometimes-hazardous damage in the engine; suspension systems can be compromised; and steering systems can become misaligned.

Over a car’s life damages can cost $2000 – Indeed, the dents, bumps and blowouts add up over time. But consider how some repairs can cost this much in a single incident: Ball joints, $150-$300; catalytic converters, $1000-$2000; control arms, $200-$400; shocks/struts, $200-$400; tie rods, $100-$250; tires, $100-$250; and wheels ($75 for steel, $500 for alloy).

Of 33,000 annual deaths on the roads, 11,000 are attributable to bad road conditions – This includes motorists, motorcyclists and bicyclists, as well as the unfortunate pedestrians hit by out-of-control vehicles where the driver is trying to avoid a pothole or has lost command of steering because of a pothole hit. Motorcyclists are very vulnerable, experiencing an average of 4,810 deaths and 88,000 life-altering injuries annually.

Cycling accidents mean injuries, deaths and multi-million dollar lawsuits – Forty-three percent of bicyclists say uneven pavement makes them fear for their safety while riding, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This is for good reason, as a simple pothole in the wrong place at the wrong time can lead to fatal injuries. Others who should worry about this are owners of the roads, taxpayers and the municipalities where they live. Lawsuits in the seven figures are not uncommon to compensate bikers for injuries or families who survive cyclists who have died.

There are personal injury lawyers who specialize in pothole lawsuits (roads and parking lots) – People trip and fall in all kinds of places all the time; in fact, it is the number one cause of emergency room visits with 8 million of them per year (21.3% per year), where 5% of them requiring treatment for fractures. When those falls occur in parking lots, the owners and managers of the property are very often the subject of lawsuits. The number of such incidents has led some personal injury attorneys to promote themselves for being skilled at “pothole law.” The facts of these cases, which often result in six- and seven-figure awards, is that a certain degree of safety is expected on public property (including that which is privately owned as part of an enterprise or non-profit organization).

Fixing potholes cost money, but not fixing them costs even more money – Already in 2000 the Federal Highway Administration found that preventive efforts in pavement preservation can save the government money at all levels (federal, state, county, city and townships). In the state of Michigan, research identified that proactive maintenance is 14 times cheaper than reactive maintenance; over eight years of preventive work they estimate the savings to be as much as $700 million.

So how can the public act on this information and prevent future potholes? For public roads and streets, it’s about contacting the authorities to stress the need for better budgeting, better preventive maintenance, and fixing what needs to be fixed. Most cities have a non-emergency number to call (or online apps) to report where new potholes are causing problems. For owners of private property, it’s useful to report pavement and walkway issues to property managers. Remind everyone of the financial liability they bear if those potholes are not repaired in an expeditious manner.

When voter referendums are proposed – very often to allocate funds to repair work, sometimes through a gas tax increase – take it upon yourself to contribute to the conversation with facts and historical data.

A gas tax may not be the only answer (gas taxes are on the decline due to more fuel-efficient vehicles). But until people realize the true costs of bad pavement a non-answer is pennywise and pound foolish.


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