Potholes damage cars but motorists rarely reimbursed

Cities and counties in Minnesota make it fairly easy for motorists to report potholes that require fixing. Just call 311 or submit a form online on their websites. But when potholes damage cars, municipalities make it much harder to seek reimbursement.

Existing laws don’t make reimbursement easy either. Here, authorities are only responsible for pothole damage if they’ve been notified about the pothole and didn’t fix it within a reasonable amount of time.

Whether it’s the process for seeking reimbursement or the laws themselves, Minnesota transportation officials say it’s extremely rare for a claim to be paid.

A recent insurance industry survey backs that up. The Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America found that that just 3 percent who sought reimbursement were able to get local authorities to pick up the tab and of the people who filed an insurance claim, over half paid out of pocket.

How much?

Deteriorating roads nationwide cost the average driver $515 in extra operational and maintenance costs on their cars, according to the latest analysis from TRIP, a national research group.

Or as a report in the Washington Post put it: Those cracks and potholes put a lot of extra wear and tear on your car. They wear your tires away faster, and they decrease your gas mileage too.

And, according to the insurance industry survey, half of car owners in the U.S. say they’ve had damage done to their car because of a pothole over the last five years. That group put the price tag at $27 million for the same time period.

To the unsuspecting motorists, one could say the numbers translate into highway robbery.

Perhaps it’s time for the government entities responsible for the repair and maintenance of our roadways to pay up.

Current policies – at the local, state and national levels – provide few fiscal incentives for our elected officials to resolve our transportation funding issues. While there is widespread agreement that our roads are deteriorating faster they can be maintained, there is little agreement on how to best fund and manage the transportation system.

Maybe it’s time for taxpayers to up the ante in this decades-old debate about where the money to fix our roads should come from by requiring cities, counties, townships and the state to reimburse motorists for actual damages caused by poor road maintenance.

If each of the more 3.3 million drivers in Minnesota, submitted claims for damages and the extra maintenance and operational costs, the price tag could easily exceed $1.5 billion annually.

Facing those added expenses, perhaps our elected officials would finally get the message: Let’s say goodbye to the potholes and fix our broken transportation system.