Digging into Europe's pothole crisis
All over the world, damage to the surface of roads has always been an absolute thorn in the side of drivers. But in recent years, the growing emergence of potholes has become an even more serious problem because of the dramatic damage they can cause to tires.
Following yet another harsh winter in Europe with record rainfall recorded in some countries, the situation has now reached epidemic proportions in some European countries. It is now to the point where various tire organizations are actively embarking on special safety campaigns centred around the urgent need for drivers to make regular (meaning daily) inspections of their tires and wheels for any damage or after every journey.
Recent reports indicate that although some countries’ governments have pledged to inject substantial funds to help fix the potholes and other road damage as quickly as possible, it is individual towns’ and regions’ councils who are ultimately responsible to ensure the much-needed work is carried out as a matter of extreme urgency.
I have been tracking this situation for a while now, and it seems that with most of Europe still recovering from a deep and lasting recession, many councils have had their overall annual budgets reduced, meaning they are either reluctant to spend funds on road repairs or they simply do not have the money to carry out such a campaign.
In fact, lack of finance seems the most obvious reason, and there has been a steady stream of reports that some repairs are being carried out on potholes but with inferior products to act as a stop-gap. Of course this means the potholes with definitely return sooner rather than later. Therefore, any drivers who cannot be bothered to take the time out for regular checks face an increasingly growing risk of eventually becoming involved in a tire-related accident.
What is even more alarming is that most drivers seem to be completely unaware of the untold damage that can be inflicted on a tire that hits a pothole at speed. Even at quite moderate speeds a tire driving over a pothole can result in a buckled wheel or a lump in the tread or sidewall which are considered the most obvious signs of damage. However, other hidden problems also can occur such as hairline cracks in alloy wheels which will allow air to gradually escape leading to under-inflation. So if tires are then driven in an under-inflated condition, it will ultimately lead to overheating and in some cases rapid deflation plus suspension problems and poor alignment.
Therefore, it makes a lot of sense for drivers to carry out a thorough inspection of the whole tire and wheel for any cuts and bulges if they hit or drive over a pothole. It is also strongly advised that attention should be focused on any obvious changes to a vehicle’s overall handling performance which could also indicate a deterioration in their tires or wheels.
It is generally considered that the average cost for repairing cars after hitting a pothole is around 240 euros (U.S. $335), which underlines just how serious pothole damage is becoming for tires. Thousands of motorists have already fallen victim, which has kick-started this awareness campaign which I expect to grow in momentum quite quickly. The general mood of the average European motorist is not good, with many victims starting to win court claims from councils for the damage to their vehicles.
Personally, I have not suffered any damage to my vehicle when travelling around Europe, but probably this is more luck than judgement as (when safe) I go out of my way to perform steering maneuvers to miss the potholes. I also drive a 4x4 vehicle with larger, more robust tires which may well put me in a more fortunate position than some drivers.
However, I firmly expect this issue to become even more active before there is a predicted rise in deaths on the roads due to tire failures. ■
John Stone has been working within the global tire industry for the past 20 years. In 2004 he launched his own company, Sapphire Media Services, as a business media consultant with clients around the globe. Stone also writes for tire and automotive-related publications in Europe, South Africa and Asia.
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