Fix Potholes, Then Let’s Talk About High-Tech Roadways for Autonomous Cars

Fix Potholes, Then Let’s Talk About High-Tech Roadways for Autonomous Cars

Driving in California last week, I didn’t see one pothole. We have more than you can count in Michigan. If only we could send some of them to other states to even things out.  

Sure, California has earthquakes and house-consuming wildfires, but it’s lucky to lack the climate conditions that create potholes. They are formed when water gets under road surfaces, then alternately freezes and thaws. Before long, the pavement breaks up.

Cold-winter states always have lived with potholes here and there. But now it’s rampant. They’re big and plentiful. Some look like craters. It’s as if meteor storms, not snow storms, hit us.

To make matters worse, several state governments have cut back on funding road repairs. Michigan has joined that club. The idea is to reduce tax spending. But people who’ve been victimized by potholes end up paying out.

In an eBay survey, 34% of drivers say they plan to use part of their tax refunds to address vehicle damage caused by winter-ravaged roads. In the Midwest and Northeast, a majority of drivers say that’s what they’ll do.

It’s topsy-turvy. People pay lower levies, but then use their tax returns to cover damage stemming from neglected roadways. Hey, thanks, Uncle Sam.

There are beneficiaries, such as dealerships and auto shops doing a brisk business lately in realignment and axle-damage work. They’re not complaining. If they did, it would resemble air-conditioning salespeople beefing about a heat wave. But right about now, I feel for insurers that sell wheel-and-tire protection plans.

I’ve replaced two broken front springs on my car after jarring pothole encounters. I have memorized where the worst ones are on my commute. I dodge them, but worry a policeman might see my weaving car and stop me on suspicion of drunk driving.  

A thoroughfare near my office in Southfield, MI, is so festooned with potholes it looks like B-52s carpet-bombed it. City Hall sits along one of the worst stretches of roadway. Stand up for civic pride.

This is in a section city planners want to transform into a suburban “downtown” district complete with pedestrian walkways, bike paths and outdoor cafes. But before doing all that, how about repairing roads that only M1 Abrams tanks can safely negotiate?

A lot of current auto-industry talk centers on the coming of autonomous cars. Predictions are that 10 or 15 or 20 years from now, self-driving vehicles laden with collision-avoidance sensors will take us around.

The bold vision is that these cars of tomorrow will travel on modern motorways embedded with sensors of their own. We’ll see about that. Until then, let’s fix today’s roads.

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