WMBF Investigates: Potholes costing drivers and state of S.C.

Updated: Feb. 24, 2020 at 6:36 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) - Potholes are more than just a bump in the road for South Carolina drivers; the road hazard can cause major damage to cars and injuries to drivers.

A motorcyclist flew off his bike in Lexington County after hitting a pothole. In 2016, a driver claimed to sustain a permanent disability after hitting a pothole.

In Georgetown County, a pothole caused a car to roll off a drop off and trapped the passengers who had to be cut out of the vehicle.

The state’s insurance fund paid more than $40,000 to each of the drivers. Damage from potholes can be covered by the owner of the road.

“There is state law that says if we knew, if SCDOT was aware of a pothole prior to 24 hours, then that claim could be paid,” said Pete Poore, spokesperson for the South Carolina Department of Transportation.

WMBF Investigates analyzed 632 statewide insurance claims related to potholes, manholes and drains from July to December 2019. Data revealed South Carolina’s Insurance Reserve Fund (IRF) paid more than $900,000 for damage claims during those six months.

A majority of those claims, 92%, were filed against the SCDOT.

While the money used to cover the damage claims is paid by the IRF, state agencies and local governments spend part of their budget on premiums each year.

Poore said the department spends around $14 million for the premiums.

The IRF covers more than just pothole claims it handles property and liability claims.

In addition to the payouts made by IRF, Poore said SCDOT pays out claims less than $1,500. He added the department spent $176,000 on these claims from July through December 2019. He did not specify if this was just for pothole-related claims.

Ken Nobles with Black’s Tire and Auto in Myrtle Beach said he sees cars damaged by potholes weekly and in recent years has seen an increase.

“It can cause a lot of problems, especially with their suspension on the front end. It causes alignment to be knocked out, it causes your tires to be, the treadwear to wear out irregularly,” Nobles said.

He added damage can cost drivers anywhere from $79 to $700.

“I had a gentleman that had a big rim on a vehicle, a 24-inch rim. He busted a tire and a rim. The rim he had was out of stock. They didn’t make it anymore, so he ended up buying a whole new set of rims and tires for his vehicle so it was about a $1,600 job,” Nobles said, recounting one of the worst cases he’s handled.

Nobles said if drivers notice a slight pull or vibration in the vehicle, they should bring it in to be checked.

Poore said the SCDOT has held a ‘Pothole Blitz’ the past two years in January to fill potholes created during cold weather.

“Our maintenance force does all kinds of work to make repairs but in January we kind of focus on patching potholes because, to use a farming expression, that’s when the crop comes in,” Poore said.

The department patched 514,000 potholes last year, according to its 2018-2019 performance report.

Poore said the state’s overall plan to fix potholes is the its 10-year plan.

“That is not a pothole patching program that is a repaving program, so we’re using the paving program as part of the 10-year plan to resurface as many roadways in South Carolina as possible,” Poore said.

The 2 cents more drivers pay at the pump funds this plan.

Since 2017, the Gas Tax has generated $300 million.

“We have not had the money in the past 30 years to properly maintain the roads as we should,” Poore said. “Now we have this sustained source of revenue and a plan over the next 10 years to resurface the worst of the worst roads.”

He said it would be a pleasant byproduct of the repaving efforts if the number of potholes and damage claims decreases.

For potholes on an Horry County-owned road, drivers can call the road and drainage hotline at (843) 381-8000.

The Horry County Connect app also allows users to make an instant report.

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