Car Culture

Speed, not pothole, kills man in Detroit

That makes a bit more sense, but it doesn't make potholes any less dangerous this time of year.

Slow your roll when the thaw hits.

RJ Sangosti/Getty Images

Update, Feb. 21: This story has been amended to reflect new information from the Detroit Police Department.

As a new Detroit resident, I'm used to (condescending) questions about how safe the city is. While I have never felt unsafe here, for a brief minute, I was about to pick up a new fear -- killer potholes. 

The Detroit Free Press reported yesterday that a man died after a vehicle he was riding in contacted a pothole. The story alleged that the vehicle hit a pothole on the city's west side, which caused the vehicle to lose control and crash into an electrical pole. However, after a police investigation, it became clear that the pothole was not to blame. In fact, there wasn't even a pothole. Speed was the underlying factor in the crash, which should put some killer-pothole fears to rest.

While you might be inclined to make an "even the potholes in Detroit are dangerous" joke, potholes in general are hardly a laughing matter. Potholes are created when water gets under the asphalt in liquid form. When it freezes, it expands, pushing the road surface upward. When it thaws again, there's now a hole under the asphalt, and the weight of road traffic pushes that asphalt back down into that hole.

When your vehicle contacts a pothole, the rapid movement of the vehicle can cause all sorts of problems. Potholes can damage suspension components, bend wheels, and even slice tire sidewalls open. When any of that happens, there's a chance the vehicle could lose control, which could cause a problem like the ones seen here. My personal car hit a pothole a couple weeks ago, and it was enough to bend the brake dust shield into the rotor, causing a gnarly noise and briefly affecting handling.

Some cities allow you to recoup the cost of fixing pothole-related vehicle damage, but the best thing you can do is keep an eye on the road surface and attempt to avoid some of the gnarlier ones by changing lanes. If your normal commute is littered with severe potholes, it might be best to consider alternate routes, as well. Above all, drive slowly and exercise caution.