Pothole warning system: new virtual map to help drivers avoid car damage

Pothole warning system

Imagine if your car could warn you of a pothole like this. You could then avoid it

Think about how useful a pothole warning system in your car might be. We’ve all felt that sickening thump on hitting a pothole. The first thought is frequently whether the wheel is still attached to the car, let alone  how damaged. And with cold weather giving way to warmer temperatures, now is the time potholes begin to appear on winter-ravaged roads. But a new virtual map could make hitting potholes a thing of the past.

The idea is that the pothole warning system would rely on information supplied by drivers, crowd sourcing as it’s called. It’s similar in principle to the live traffic conditions displayed by many sat nav systems. This data would be displayed in real time on our in-car screens, giving users a virtual map of where the worst potholes are and warning when there is a particularly nasty hole in the road ahead.

The idea is from car maker Ford and it would work in conjunction with the company’s existing technology. On some Ford Mondeo, Galaxy and S-MAX models, a system known as Pothole Mitigation employs sensors to detect when the wheel has dropped into a pothole. The car’s on-board computer then adjusts the suspension in milliseconds to try to reduce the amount of damage caused.

How the pothole warning system works

The virtual pothole system would use cameras and more sensors to map where the potholes are. Each car would have its own modem which would enable pothole details to be uploaded to an online database. All cars using the system would then display that information.

Uwe Hoffmann, a research engineer for Ford, said: “A virtual pothole map could highlight a new pothole the minute it appears and almost immediately warn other drivers that there is a hazard ahead. Our cars already feature sensors that detect potholes and now we are looking at taking this to the next level.”

In the UK, a pothole damage claim is received by local authorities every 17 minutes. The average claim comes to £432. According to pressure group the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA), it would cost £11.8bn to bring every road in the UK up to scratch. By 2019, that figure will have risen to £14bn, which the Local Government Association (LGA) claims is more than three times the entire roads and transport budget of local authorities in Britain.

£13.5m in driver compensation

The AIA says councils spent £118.4m filling around two million potholes in 2015. It also claims £13.5m was spent in compensation to drivers whose cars were damaged by potholes. The time it would take to repair all the country’s potholes has escalated from 10.9 years in 2006 to 14 years in 2016. Currently the average local authority in the UK would have to spend £69m to make its roads good, the LGA claims.

Although Britain is frequently called the pothole capital of Europe, the rest of the EU is almost as bad. According to Ford’s data, in 2011 there were 20 million potholes reported in Europe. However, only half of them were filled, at a cost of more than £1 billion. Ford is hoping its pothole warning system could prevent drivers damaging their cars. That will cut the number of claims to local authorities and mean drivers spend less time getting their cars fixed.

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