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What happens if a pothole or roadworks damage your car?

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Motorists can claim for car damages caused by potholes. (PHOTO: Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Motorists can claim for car damages caused by potholes. (PHOTO: Gallo Images/Getty Images)
  • Q: If my car gets damaged while I’m driving due to roadworks/potholes, can I claim from the government?
  • A: Yes, however in order to establish who you can claim from for pothole damage/damage as a result of roadworks you need to establish if you’re driving on a national or municipal road.

National roads are commonly identified as N1, N2 and so forth. These roads are the responsibility of the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL), whereas municipal roads would fall under the authority of the various municipal districts or the department of public works where those roads are located.

SANRAL contracts with roadworks companies to maintain the national roads, and these companies have to provide proof they have an insurance policy in place to cover claims for liability from road users.

Claims for damages from potholes or roadworks on national roads are therefore directed to SANRAL and from there to the specific contractor on that stretch of road. SANRAL confirms claims are processed like any other vehicle insurance claim if it can be proved the damage occurred as a result of roadworks/pothole damage.

On municipal roads road users would have to approach that specific municipal authority or department of public works and enquire from them which documentation to complete, and to whom to submit such a claim.

Information required would include:

  • Your ID
  • Your driver’s license
  • An Affidavit describing the incident and confirming the items damaged
  • Affidavit confirming non-insurance (if applicable)
  • The registration details of your vehicle
  • Three written quotes for repair
  • Damage report from the supplier/repairer confirming the items which are damaged
  • Invoice if you've fixed the damage
  • A declaration signed by the claimant
  • The AA suggests the vehicle owner also provide proof through pictures of the pothole and the damage to the vehicle.
Check that your car is completely roadworthy befor
Check that your car is completely roadworthy before hitting the road. (PHOTO: Gallo Images/Getty Images)

While vehicle damage as a result to potholes may sometimes not be in your control, there are a few things you can do to help ensure a safer travelling experience.

Here are 10 tips from experts.

1. Check your car

Ensure your car is completely roadworthy, says Grant Johnson, South African head of Dekra, a foremost international vehicle inspection group with various local branches.

Check the brakes, tyres and lights. Ensure all your tyres, including the emergency tyre, are at the correct pressure. Check the car’s liquids – oil and water – and ensure you have the necessary equipment if you need to change a tyre, as well as an emergency triangle, Johnson says.   

Advocate Johan Jonck, founder of the Arrive Alive campaign, adds that you should also check your steering system, indicators and windscreen wipers.

If a tyre bursts while you’re travelling at 120 km/h, the results could be fatal. That’s why it’s crucial that you check the tread on all your tyres –including the spare – before departure, says Layton Beard of the Automobile Association (AA). 

Beard also advises that you schedule your annual car service well before going on holiday, otherwise you might not get an appointment as there’s also a rush before the holiday season.

2. Plan well

Plan the route to your destination well and allow yourself enough time to get there without rushing, Jonck advises. Take into account any possible roadworks and delays.

Be sure to get enough sleep so that you’re well rested before departure. Try to avoid driving in the dark and don’t overload the vehicle.Make sure your cellphone is fully charged and invest in a car charger, Johnson says.

Have any emergency contact numbers on hand, including roadside assistance.

If you’re an AA member, always keep your membership card at hand, Beard says, as the AA is there to assist you, wherever and whenever.

He also advises carefully planning ahead so that you’re not caught struggling to find overnight accommodation, for example.

Depending on the season and weather forecast, pack a warm jacket or raincoat and umbrella. You should always have a first-aid kit in the car, and a small fire extinguisher is also a good idea, Beard says.

See to it that you always have enough water and other drinks, as well as a few snacks, in case you get stranded somewhere.

Ensure that you and all your assengers are strappe
Ensure that you and all your assengers are strapped in before starting your journey. (PHOTO: Gallo Images/Getty Images)

3. Obey the law

Adhere to road signs, Johnson says, while Jonck says you have to stick to the speed limit. In fact, he says, all the road rules need to be obeyed. Always have your driver’s license with you.

4. Buckle up!

Always wear your seat belt and make sure your passengers do too, Jonck says.

5. Following distance and passing

Your following distance should be at least two seconds at all times and further in the dark or when visibility is poor, Jonck says. Only pass other vehicles when you’re certain it’s safe to do so. He emphasizes that if you have any doubts at all, you shouldn’t do it.

Beard, too, feels strongly about this when it comes to his loved ones: Never pass another vehicle on a solid line, on a blind hill or when you can’t see around a bend. Never give in to pressure from another vehicle behind you if you’re not confident you’ll be able to pass.

Rather slow down a bit, widening the gap in front of you so that your pest can pass you and move in there.Don’t trust the judgement of truck drivers or other motorists indicating that it’s safe for you to pass – only pass once you feel it’s safe to do so, Beard emphasizes.

6. Visibility

Always be on the lookout for reckless and potentially dangerous drivers, as well as pedestrians or animals next the road and steer clear of them, Jonck says.

Always be sure that you’re visible to other drivers, so drive with your headlights on. But if you’re driving in the dark, remember to dim the lights in time so you don’t blind oncoming drivers, he adds.

You should constantly adjust your driving to road conditions, Beard says. If visibility is bad or there are other challenging conditions, the first thing to do is slow down, even though the speed limited might be 120 km/h.

In case of flooding and heavy rains, never cross a low-water bridge if you’re not 100% sure how deep the water is.

And, he adds, if your car is swept away flood water or gets stuck in it, you should try to abandon your car – you’re more important than your vehicle.

7. Stay focused . . .

Johnson can’t stress it enough: “Néver talk on your cellphone while driving.”Keep your hands completely off your phone, Jonck adds.

Avoid anything that might distract you from the road in front of you, and stay focused and vigilant.Beard agrees, saying you should also avoid while driving: eating, taking off or putting on clothing, using any kind of electronic equipment.

All your attention must be on the road. He also encourages the front passenger to pay attention and alert the driver to potential risks. 

Experts say you should drive slower if visibility
Experts say you should drive slower if visibility is in any way impaired. (PHOTO: Gallo Images/Getty Images)

8. . . . and ever sober

Johnson, Jonck and Beard are adamant: “Never, ever drink and drive.” In fact, no one should use the road if they’d been drinking, be it motorists, bikers, cyclists or pedestrians, Jonck adds.

9. Tired? Stop

Be sure to stop and rest at least every two hours, Johnson says. Keep family and friends – whom you should’ve informed of what route you’re taking – updated on our progress.

You can also opt to use distance as an indicator of when to rest, Jonck says, for example every 200km.

Stretching your legs, fresh air and something to eat or drink can help you feel fresh and ready to hit the road again, Beard advises. He reckons your journey shouldn’t be a race to your destination – make it part of your holiday and enjoy the experience.

10. Get the right attitude

Make sure you approach your trip with the right attitude, Beard says. If, for instance, you’re going to be in a hurry and become frustrated if you encounter heavy traffic, you should consider leaving at another time.

Jonck’s advice is to always drive defensively, and to have respect for other road users and their safety. But don’t assume other motorists are as law abiding as you are. Always be polite to fellow road users – don’t lose your temper and don’t give in to the temptation for revenge if you feel slighted by someone.

Beard says he always tell people that road use is a responsibility, not a right. You’re responsible for your passengers (by for instance making sure they’re always strapped in, including baby chairs) and you have a responsibility to other road users (by being considerate toward them).

It’s a responsibility we should all take seriously, Beard believes. “And it’s also always my message to my loved ones.”

Source: The Automobile Association of South Africa, Johannesburg Roads Agency

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