WASHINGTON, D. C. (Tuesday, March 21, 2017) –– As they have for each of the past six years, American motorists will likely spend around $3 billion to cover vehicle damage caused by a bumper crop of potholes this year, estimates AAA. That is about what Americans spent on pothole damage to their vehicles last year too. Sure, it was a “Bizarro World” winter, where everything seemed topsy-turvy in some way or another, including the major snowstorm that came at the end of the season. It might be the last thing on your mind, but the price tag for pothole damage is coming due soon. Traditionally, pothole season begins in March.
Most drivers mistakenly think a milder winter and the lack of a major snowfall or two during the season means fewer potholes. Well, that’s not the case. Typically, potholes form when moisture collects in small holes and cracks in the road surface. As temperatures rise and fall, the moisture expands and contracts due to freezing and thawing. This breaks up the pavement and, combined with the weight of passing cars, eventually results in the formation of potholes. That’s when flat-tire roadside rescue calls to AAA spike.
While potholes are more prevalent in early spring, they can crop up year-round. The District filled more than “52,000 potholes citywide” during the first eight months of Fiscal Year 2016, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) announced. Last spring, the District patched more than 16,500 potholes during the eight-week annual Potholepalooza campaign. Every year, AAA responds to more than four million calls for flat tire assistance, many the result of damage caused by a persistent pestilence of potholes.
“The tire is the most important cushion between a vehicle and a pothole,” said James Spires, Regional Manager, AAA Car Care Centers. “Unfortunately, a growing number of motorists are driving late model automobiles that have no spare tires, and sometimes motorists don’t know that until they experience a flat car caused by hitting a pothole. It’s a bad time to find out a third of new vehicles don’t have spares.”
A year ago, AAA reported pothole damage cost U.S. drivers $15 billion in vehicle repairs over the last five years, or about $3 billion annually. That will bring the total price tag to $18 billion during the six-year period, this year included. This year vehicle owners will also spend another $3 billion in pricy repairs due to rust damage. AAA is not forecasting the number of potholes in 2017. But a new AAA survey found that nearly 30 million U.S. drivers experienced pothole damage significant enough to require repair in 2016, with repair bills ranging from under $250 to more than $1,000. To address this issue, AAA believes that more funding is needed to keep pace with critical repairs and ongoing maintenance of the nation’s roadways.
Spot or Hit a Pothole? Who Are You Going to Call?
District of Columbia residents and commuters are encouraged to continue reporting potholes by contacting the Mayor’s Call Center at 311 in any of the following ways—calling 311, visiting online at 311.dc.gov, or by using the DC311 smartphone application.
The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and its “interstate maintenance contractors are responsible for patching potholes on the 58,000 miles of state-maintained roadways in the commonwealth.” Motorists are encouraged to call 1-800-FOR-ROAD (1-800-367-7623) to report any road maintenance issues.
The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) crews maintain 17,824 lane miles of the state’s highways and toll roads. Drivers can report potholes on state numbered roadways (such as 355, route 28, I- 270, etc.) to the Maryland State Highway Administration at 301.513.7300.
Until last week’s snowstorm, Washingtonians were basking in one of the warmest winters on record. February was noted for its “well above average” temperatures and its “well below normal” precipitation. Those are perfect pothole making conditions. Pothole damage is a major concern for drivers as roadways begin to crumble. During the winter months, even though area road crews may fill a pothole, the water underneath can freeze up that night and push the “cold patch” right back out again. Now potholes are inchoate. Pothole damage is usually covered—providing you have collision coverage, notes AAA Insurance.
“Collision coverage, an optional portion of a standard auto insurance policy, covers damage to a vehicle resulting from a collision with an object (e.g., a pothole, lamp post or guard rail), another vehicle or as the result of flipping over,” said Elise Burston, Insurance Counselor, AAA Mid-Atlantic Insurance Agency. “However, it does not cover wear and tear to a vehicle or its tires due to bad road conditions. Collision coverage is generally sold with a deductible—the higher your deductible, the lower your premium.”
Heading into pothole season 25 percent of the roads in the District are in poor to fair condition, while 45 percent of the roadways are in good condition, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) 2017 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. Maryland has 36,423 miles of public roads with 16 percent in poor condition, the Report Card shows. Virginia boasts the nation’s third largest state roadway system, but it only earned a Report Card GPA of “D.” These pre-existing road conditions can easily become provender for potholes. AAA offers the following advice to protect your vehicles from pothole damage:
Look ahead. Make a point of scanning the road ahead for potholes. If you see a pothole in advance, you might have time to avoid it, so it’s important to stay focused on the road and not on any distractions inside or outside of the vehicle. Before swerving to miss a pothole, check surrounding traffic to make sure you will not cause a collision or endanger nearby pedestrians or cyclists.
Slow down. If you can’t avoid a pothole, reduce speed safely and be sure to check the rearview mirror before any abrupt braking. Hitting a pothole at higher speeds greatly increases the chance of damage to tires, wheels and suspension components.
Beware of puddles. A puddle of water can disguise a deep pothole. Use care when driving through puddles and treat them as though they may be hiding potholes.
Check Alignment – Hitting a pothole can knock a vehicle’s wheels out of alignment and affect the steering. If a vehicle pulls to the left of right, have the wheel alignment checked by a qualified technician.
Recognize Noises/Vibrations – A hard pothole impact can dislodge wheel weights, damage a tire or wheel, and bend or even break suspension components. Any new or unusual noises or vibrations that appear after hitting a pothole should be inspected immediately by a certified technician.
When pothole or rust damage occurs, it is imperative to choose a reputable repair facility, including more than 20 AAA Car Care Centers throughout the mid-Atlantic region that provide expert diagnostics, repairs, and maintenance. By the way, each location is owned and operated by AAA. In addition, AAA Approved Auto Repair (AAR) network includes nearly 7,000 facilities which have met AAA’s high standards, including, certifications, technical training, cleanliness, insurance requirements, rigorous inspections and customer satisfaction. Simply visit AAA.com/AutoRepair.
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AAA provides automotive, travel and insurance services to 57 million members nationwide and nearly 78,000 members in the District of Columbia. AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years. The not-for-profit, fully tax-paying member organization works on behalf of motorists, who can now map a route, find local gas prices, discover discounts, book a hotel and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android. For more information, visit http://aaa.com