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  • Writer's pictureEllis Wood ADI

New research reveals that learner drivers may be unaware of the dangers of hitting a pothole

New research reveals that learner drivers may be unaware of the dangers of hitting a pothole, with almost half willing to keep driving after hitting one

• A new survey from our member group RED Driving School highlights concerns over potholes and how they could impact learners on their driving test

• Whilst over half (60%) of learner drivers are fearful of the impact of hitting a pothole, almost half (44%) of learner drivers would not consider stopping their car after hitting a pothole

• Test routes are splattered with potholes throughout the UK, with nearly two thirds of respondents (64%) claiming they encounter one or more potholes on their test routes

• In response, RED, Michelin and Kwik Fit have teamed up to provide guidance on best pothole practice to ensure learners know how best to deal with them 

30th May 2022: Research from RED Driving School, National Driving School of the Year, has revealed the concerns of learner and newly qualified drivers when it comes to potholes – a hazardous aspect of driving which is not specifically tested against in the UK driving test or mentioned in any DVSA publication at present. 

In the survey which asked over 1,000 learner drivers about their sentiment towards potholes and road safety, nearly two thirds (60%) of respondents claimed that they would be scared about how a pothole would impact their vehicle. 

Although the majority of the UK’s learner drivers are fearful about potholes, almost half (44%) of learner drivers admitted that they wouldn’t consider stopping to perform any checks on their vehicle immediately after hitting a pothole. While some (32%) resolved that they would perform checks on arrival of their planned destination, a small portion of respondents (4%) said they would completely ignore the fact that they had hit a pothole, demonstrating a lack of awareness of the potential severity of hitting a pothole.   In response to these findings, RED, Kwik Fit and Michelin are teaming up to educate the learner drivers of our country on best practice to ensure optimal safety as well as becoming more mindful when it comes to tyre and car maintenance.   

While potholes aren’t specifically acknowledged within any DVSA publication, RED Driving School instructors teach learners about the dangers of potholes during skills lessons in the learning process, alongside other topics such as road positioning, dealing with obstructions, anticipation and planning. 

Ian Fido, Head of Training at RED Driving School states: “In all cases of road obstructions– and certainly while in a test environment –we suggest following the MSPSL routine: checking Mirrors, Signal if required, Position the car early, Slow down and Look to negotiate the problem, to return safely to a normal road position as soon as practically possible. 

“As a learner approaches test standard, the discussions would include what to do should they encounter a road with potholes on their driving test. If you spot a pothole on a test, steer around it, as long as it doesn’t cause a risk to another road user. If it is too risky to steer around the pothole, adjust your speed and drive over the pothole as slowly as possible, reducing the risk of damage to your car and tyres. 

“If you are not able to avoid driving through the pothole, I would recommend finding a safe place to stop as soon as possible after the event, informing the examiner that you need to make a quick vehicle check. At this point, you should get out and inspect tyres and wheels for signs of obvious damage and if you believe it is unsafe  to continue based on these checks, advise the examiner of your thought process. At this point, the examiner would offer advice or either continue or abandon the test depending on their safety call. 

While the Asphalt Industry Alliance stated an increase in potholes being filled by councils in 2021, resulting in 1.7 million potholes being addressed across England and Wales, their presence on local roads are still a reality for learner drivers; nearly two thirds (64%) of respondents claimed that there are one or more potholes on their driving test route. 

Seb Goldin, CEO of RED Driving School comments: “The findings of this survey demonstrate an appetite for a learning curriculum which encompasses more about tyre pressure and damage, so that learner drivers can know what to look out for should there be an incident while independently driving. Including an aspect on the test which requires the learner driver to prove they are able to set and test tyre pressures would encourage better education and we believe the DVSA should make this adaption to the current test.”  

Hitting a pothole can cause damage to a tyre that results in inflation pressure loss. This pressure loss might be slow and progressive but could be sudden if the impact is severe enough. The same survey also revealed a lack of knowledge when it comes to tyre pressure checking, with two thirds (66%) of learner drivers never having performed a check themselves, and nearly half of this demographic (26%) admitting that they simply do not have the knowledge to perform this check themselves.  

Brian Porteous, Michelin Technical Manager commented: “Tyres are designed to be robust, but driving through potholes, even slowly, can cause abrasion and deep scoring to the sidewalls if they are forced against sharp, jagged stones.  

“More severe impacts can cause internal damage to the tyre structure that propagates over time. Setting tyre inflation pressures correctly helps the tyre resist damage and regular checking can help detect early signs of internal damage, too.  Setting correct tyre pressures is important not only for a car’s braking performance, handling and fuel consumption, but over-inflated tyres are more vulnerable to shock impact damage and underinflated tyres crush and distort more easily.” 

Roger Griggs, communications director at Kwik Fit, says: “Potholes present both a safety risk and a financial cost to drivers through the damage they can cause. Unfortunately, our research has shown that the total cost of potholes to the nation’s drivers is rising each year, partly due to the country’s deteriorating road surfaces. Any driver who has hit a pothole and suspects they may have suffered damage but are unsure what to look for can take their car to any Kwik Fit centre across the UK where our expert technicians will check for damage.”

Advising the UK’s drivers on best practice to reacting to potholes, Michelin and Kwik Fit have created a guide on what to do following pothole impact. 

Status  Advice

Pothole impact. 

Check the feel of the car, listen and be sensitive to any noticeable changes when driving, particularly if the level of impact was high. Does the car pull to the left or right- perhaps under braking, if the steering becomes heavy, or if there is any vibration or noise?  If changes are apparent, think about which wheel may have been damaged and if it was the inside or outside sidewall.  Then as soon as possible find a safe place to pull over and visually check the tyre and wheel rim condition.

Tyre deformation (e.g. distortions/ bulges) or significant cuts or scratching to tyre side wall. 

Do not drive on a tyre which is deformed or you suspect might be damaged internally, even if it is holding pressure.  Replace the tyre with a spare, or call Recovery.  Deflate the suspected damaged tyre when it is removed from the car so that it is safe to carry. A thorough internal and external examination is recommended by a tyre professional. Any damage to the wheel rim should also be inspected.

Tyre puncture due to pothole damage.    

Replace with spare wheel if present. Use of tyre sealant products is not recommended for tyre side wall damage. Call Recovery if no spare wheel.

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