How Dangerous Are Potholes? 


Spring offers a welcome respite from the cold, blustery weather that blankets the Northeast during the winter months. But the pits and potholes that develop on roadways once the ice and snow have thawed are not as well received. 

The Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration (MDOT SHA) spends a staggering three million dollars repairing potholes annually. Consider that it costs around $90 to fix a single pothole, and you can grasp the extent of the problem. In a single year, MDOT SHA repairs an estimated 34,000 potholes covering approximately 23,000 square yards of asphalt. 

Potholes are not just a nuisance. They are also dangerous. Potholes can cause vehicles to lose control and lead to serious vehicle collisions and personal injury to drivers and passengers. This discussion explores the environmental conditions that lead to potholes, how to report them, and what to do if you are in a car accident caused by poor road conditions.  

How Are Potholes Formed?

If you are familiar with driving Maryland roads, you have likely encountered plenty of potholes. However, you may not know how they are created. 

Water from rain and snow seeps down into the ground beneath the surface of the road. In freezing weather, that collected water freezes and expands, pressing up against the road surface. As the water repeatedly freezes and thaws with the changing temperatures, it continues to stress the pavement. 

Eventually, when the water thaws, it collapses inward, creating a cavity in the ground. Vehicle traffic that passes over potholes cause more damage, crumbling the outer edges until over time, the pothole widens. 

Why Are Potholes So Dangerous?

When a vehicle passes over a large pothole, the impact can cause significant and costly damage that renders the vehicle unsafe to drive. Tire blowouts, dented rims, and steering and suspension problems are just a few common pothole-related problems.

But more importantly, that impact can injure occupants inside the vehicle, especially if they are not properly restrained with seat belts. It can also cause the vehicle to lose control and hit another vehicle, an object or structure, or even a pedestrian. 

What makes potholes even more frustrating is how hard they can be to spot. Even if you are a vigilant driver, you may find out too late that what looks to be a shallow puddle is really a deep pothole filled with water. Some potholes can be as deep as 12 inches or more. 

How Are Potholes Repaired?

The proper fix for a pothole depends on the time of year, the average daily temperature, and the weather forecast for the imminent future. The road surface must be adequately prepared, or the patch will not adhere. 

In colder weather, MDOT SHA crews fill potholes with a so-called cold patch to make the areas safe for traffic until they can complete a more permanent repair in the spring. Once the temperatures rise to around 50 degrees or above, crews use a hot patch for long-lasting results. Typically, the pothole repairs process takes around an hour, depending on the shape and extent of the damage. 

What to Do after a Pothole Car Accident

As noted above, there are a few accident scenarios involving potholes. A vehicle wheel becomes lodged in the pothole, causing the vehicle to swerve out of control, hitting another car or object. Or the driver stops suddenly to avoid a pothole, causing a rear-end collision with the vehicle following behind them. 

If you experience an accident after hitting a pothole, there are some steps you should take to protect yourself from additional injuries and get help for everyone at the scene. 

First, try to remain as calm as possible. Unlike other types of car accidents, drivers often do not see the pothole prior to impact, which makes these accidents especially jarring. Once the vehicle has settled and come to rest, check yourself and any passengers in your vehicle for injuries. 

Call 911 to report the accident and tell the dispatcher if anyone is seriously injured. From there, wait for help to arrive and report the accident to the responding officer. After you leave the scene and get medical attention, contact an attorney for guidance related to accident claims and damages. 

Compensation for Property Damage in Maryland

There is some good news when it comes to property damage caused by potholes. In theory, the state of Maryland will pay drivers for property damage claims related to pothole accidents. The driver must file a written claim to the state Treasury Department. 

However, it is not always that simple. First, the driver must notify the state they intend to file a claim. In addition, the claim must be filed before the limitations period is up. Finally, the claimant must prove the state was aware of the pothole. An experienced lawyer can determine if that is the case, but the client needs to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of hiring a lawyer to litigate a case involving minimal damage. 

However, legal representation is essential for anyone with serious bodily injuries that are the direct result of a traffic accident caused by dangerous road conditions. If it can be shown the jurisdiction was aware of the hazard and neglected to properly repair it in a timely manner, they may be liable for damage. 

Check Your Vehicle for Damage after Hitting a Pothole

If you are fortunate enough to walk away from an encounter with a deep pothole without serious injuries, your vehicle may not be quite as lucky. It is always a good idea to check for damage before you hit the road again. 

Tires withstand the worst of impact with a pothole. Potholes can overstretch the belts and cords, which makes a tire more susceptible to a blowout later. Look for punctures and tears. Feel along the sidewall for bulges. A bent rim is another common problem caused by potholes. A damaged rim will appear slightly bent away from the tire. 

Potholes can also damage your vehicle’s suspension system, alignment, and undercarriage. If that happens, you will probably notice something does not feel right. Your vehicle may bounce more than usual, or you may notice the bumps more than you did before. Your vehicle may pull to the left or right. 

If you hit a large pothole, it is a good idea to have a mechanic check your vehicle out to ensure it is safe to drive so that you do not run the risk of a dangerous breakdown or additional damage. 

How to Report Potholes in Maryland

Maryland makes it quick and easy to report a pothole or other roadway hazard. Visit the MDOT SHA website to report a problem or call these numbers for assistance: 

  • Phone: 410-545-0300 or 1-800-323-6742
  • Road emergency: 410-582-5650

At the same link, you will find a portal with information on current road projects including photos and video to help you avoid major repairs and construction happening across the state. 

Potholes are frustrating and potentially dangerous. If you are seriously injured or have a loved one who was killed in an accident caused by a road hazard, contact a lawyer for guidance. Liability for accidents on local and state roads is a complex issue. But with the right legal team, those injured can find justice and compensation for their medical costs, pain, and trauma. 

Baltimore Car Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Help Clients after Their Accident

If you or a loved one has been hurt in an accident caused by a pothole, reach out to the Baltimore car accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. No matter the cause of the accident, our experienced legal team will fight to secure the compensation for which you are entitled. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

We have offices in BaltimoreGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent clients throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.