The recent rough weather has wreaked havoc on travel in the New York area, but drivers should be prepared for other hazardous conditions even after the snow and ice melt, and as winter warms into spring to avoid car accidents.
We’re talking about potholes.
More than a quarter of the nation’s major urban roads have pavement that is in poor condition, making them rough riding for motorists and costing the average urban driver $377 per year. This adds up to a cost of about $80 billion nationwide, according to a report released last October by TRIP, a national transportation research group headquartered in Washington, DC.
The study ranked New York’s roads sixth among states with the highest percentage of pockmarked pavement. New York is also in the top 10 among the most expensive states for vehicle maintenance.
TRIP reports 51 percent of the state’s roads are in bad condition, costing drivers $673 on average to pay for additional wear and tear and fuel consumption.
The record low temperature in early January has provided the perfect environment for a bumper crop of potholes in asphalt that was buried under ice, snow, and salt for several days.
Potholes form when roads freeze and thaw. This process erodes the ground underneath the asphalt and weakens the blacktop. Add a steady flow of traffic to the mix, and the road will crumble. Finally, craters form in the asphalt and grow into potholes.
Potholes pose a traffic hazard. Drivers often swerve to avoid them. Sudden lane changes or swerving can send a car into the path of other vehicles or cause other drivers to react unexpectedly. That can lead to a car accident with injuries.
Even if you don’t actually crash your car, driving over potholes will make you think you’ve had a wreck. The sound of your car hitting one of these craters is one of the most nerve-wracking noises you will ever hear. And if you think your bones are rattled, consider your car’s tires, chassis, suspension and rims.
When you hit a pothole, even if you are traveling the posted speed limit, you can cause damage that could lead to flat tires, and breakdowns weeks or even months later.
According to Ameriprise Auto & Home Insurance, pothole damage accounts for nearly a half million insurance claims annually. These damages include tire punctures, excessive or uneven wear, wheel rim damage, wear on shocks and struts, suspension damage, exhaust system damage, and even engine damage.
You can detect many problems yourself.
Monitor your tire pressure and take note if it continuously gets low. Look for bends or dents in the wheels that would indicate rim damage. If you feel vibration in your steering wheel or seat when you drive your car, the steering wheel may be out of alignment. If your car pulls to the right or left when you drive it, or if the tread on your tires wears in an uneven pattern, this may be a sign of misalignment.
There are ways to minimize damage if you must drive on weather-worn roads.
- Avoid potholes if possible. Swerve around them, if you can do so safely.
- Slow down. If you are driving on a road covered with potholes, watch your speed. You will not “fly” over a hole in the road if you are speeding. Going slower allows time to see the potholes before you are right on top of them and gives you a better chance of navigating around them without swerving. Going slowly will minimize damage to your car.
- Take it easy on the brakes. Don’t brake hard if you hit a pothole, as this will cause your car to nosedive and compress the suspension. Slow down before you hit the hole, then ease off and allow your car’s suspension to absorb the shock.
- Don’t tailgate. If the car in front of you hits a pothole, you’ll have a better chance of avoiding a collision if you are not following too closely when the driver ahead hits the brakes.
- Avoid distractions. Get off your phone and keep both hands on the steering wheel and both eyes on the road ahead. Potholes can be hard to spot, but if you are paying attention, you’ll have a better chance of seeing them before you hit them.
- Watch out for puddles. They can conceal huge potholes, sometimes even deep enough to do serious damage to your car. If the puddles freeze, the icy surface can be especially dangerous.
- Keep a tight grip on your steering wheel. Hitting a pothole while steering loosely can snap your front wheels to the left or right, and may cause you to lose control of your vehicle.
The New York State Department of Transportation has a hotline you can call to request road repairs. It is 1-800-POTHOLE.