Home FleetWatch 2021 Potholes: Killer landmines on South Africa’s roads

Potholes: Killer landmines on South Africa’s roads

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If a drunken driver causes a crash in which someone is killed, he will be charged and if found guilty, jailed. So who is being charged and jailed when an unmaintained, unroadworthy road causes the death of an innocent person?
If a drunken driver causes a crash in which someone is killed, he will be charged and if found guilty, jailed. So who is being charged and jailed when an unmaintained, unroadworthy road causes the death of an innocent person?

Editor’s CommentBy Patrick O’Leary

The call came through at about 7.00pm. It was my son. “I’ve hit a pothole and my tyre’s burst. Can you come here as I’m a bit nervous getting out the car. It’s pretty dark and I’m vulnerable here.” No, he’s not a wimp. There have been a number of attacks by criminals on stranded motorists on the road he was driving and he was well aware of this. It was about a 15 minute drive from home and as it turned out, by the time I got there he had taken a chance, got out and changed the tyre. How many people have been in the same situation due to a pothole?

It was just a week before this that I came across a truck stranded on the side of the road with a burst rear tyre on its tri-axle semi-trailer. The tyre, a super single, was shattered, in shreds. I stopped and my first point was to check the condition of the other tyres on the rig. They were all in good condition. So it wasn’t a shoddy tyre. That tyre had no doubt burst from hitting a pothole somewhere along its route. It may have been on the same day, or the day before, or even the week before.

This tyre on a semi-trailer had totally disintegrated, no doubt the result of a tyre impact fracture incurred from hitting a pothole.
This tyre on a semi-trailer had totally disintegrated, no doubt the result of a tyre impact fracture incurred from hitting a pothole.

What many people do not realise is that a tyre may not burst immediately on impact with a pothole. You may still drive many kilometres over many days before the damage manifests in some form of failure. When hitting the pothole, the tyre gets an impact fracture which damages the casing of the tyre. This is not always visible and yet an impact fracture carries the risk of tyre failure at some time after the event – usually delamination of the tread or plies which can result in disintegration of the entire tyre as seen in the accompanying photograph.

Just these two events highlight a number of hidden ‘impacts’ that go beyond the mere pothole. Here are just four:

  • For motorists and truckers, the destruction of a perfectly good tyre and the hefty cost of a new tyre and often, rim.
  • The danger of being stranded alone at night and being attacked by criminals. It has happened often.
  • For the truck operator, its downtime with many hours wasted resulting in a late delivery and a dissatisfied customer.
  • Many truck operators no longer carry spare tyres on their trucks due to them being stolen. So a service crew has to travel to the scene with a replacement tyre – as happened with the above example. That is more cost and time wasted.
  • In a worst case scenario, the tyre blows immediately on hitting a pothole, the driver loses control, the vehicle rolls and the driver and occupants are killed. Or even worse, the vehicle veers into oncoming traffic and has a head-on resulting in more deaths. And it has happened.

There is no doubt that potholes are killers – of lives, of tyres, of rims, of vehicles, of time, of money. Yet despite this, it seems that provincial roads authorities are totally ignorant of the total havoc – and often tragedy – they are causing by letting the condition of our roads deteriorate to the point where they have got to now.

It wasn’t long ago that I stopped next to some cops who were holding a ‘mini-roadblock’. I asked the one cop if he was aware of the horrendous potholes about 500m from where they were stopping vehicles. “Yes. It’s bad,” he answered. “Have you reported them to your roads department?” I asked. “Yes, but they don’t listen,” he answered shaking his head.

Many truck operators no longer carry spare tyres on their trucks due to them being stolen. When a tyre bursts, a service crew has to travel to the scene with a replacement tyre. That is more cost and time wasted. Potholes are costing truckers and motorists millions of Rand in losses
Many truck operators no longer carry spare tyres on their trucks due to them being stolen. When a tyre bursts, a service crew has to travel to the scene with a replacement tyre. That is more cost and time wasted. Potholes are costing truckers and motorists millions of Rand in losses

I told him that he should keep pressing as that was his duty. I explained to him that is the man in uniform who enforces road safety and that duty applies not only to the roadworthiness of vehicles but also to the roadworthiness of the roads the vehicles drive on. It’s no use checking the roadworthiness of a vehicle and if all is OK, waving the driver on towards his death when he hits a pothole. The cause of his death would not be due to an unroadworthy vehicle or unlicensed driver. Rather, it would be due to an unroadworthy road.

If a drunken driver causes a crash in which someone is killed, he will be charged and if found guilty, jailed. So who is being charged and jailed when an unmaintained, unroadworthy road causes the death of an innocent person? 

These pothole killers are strewn around like landmines throughout South Africa. They are dangerous and deadly. In the Frelimo/Renamo war in Mozambique, anti-personnel mines were strewn randomly in fields all over the country. After the war, many innocent civilians stepped on these mines and had their legs blown off. Some were killed. So too in Angola.

My son’s car tyre – destroyed after hitting a pothole.
My son’s car tyre – destroyed after hitting a pothole.

You might recall that famous visit to Angola by the late Princess Diana where she raised global awareness of the need to eradicate landmines. Many of the photographs taken during that visit were of Princes Diana talking to victims of landmines. Two iconic pics hit world headlines – one was of Diana talking to a young girl who had lost her leg after stepping on a land mine. The other was of her sitting on a wall talking to two young men at an orthopaedic clinic in Luanda. Both men had lost a leg from landmines.

How many people are there in South Africa who have lost legs or incurred other horrible injuries in crashes caused by one of the many thousands of ‘landmine potholes’ scattered randomly around the roads of South Africa?

By ignoring potholes, roads authorities are in effect laying landmines for innocent people to step on and be maimed or killed. Mozambique was declared to be mine free in 2015. When will South Africa be declared to be pothole free? SANRAL cares but do our provincial and municipal authorities care? I really don’t think so. What do you think?

POTHOLE DEEP ENOUGH TO BE A RUBBISH DUMP
KILLER POTHOLE – ONE OF MANY THOUSANDS WAITING FOR A VICTIM.

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