Potholes cost SCDOT $1.2M in driver claims over last 3 years

Potholes are the leading issue that drivers claim caused damage to their car in South Carolina, according to data obtained from the SCDOT.
Published: Mar. 31, 2023 at 2:58 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 3, 2023 at 8:19 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Potholes are the leading issue that drivers claim caused damage to their car in South Carolina, according to data obtained from the South Carolina Department of Transportation, in the last three years.

“It’s a mess,” James Eward, the owner of Regency Collision Center, said. “I think everybody knows when you leave from North Carolina, you come to South Carolina that ‘du-dunk’ you feel right? Yeah, it’s pretty bad. I mean everybody, even people in New Jersey know it.”

Drivers who experience issues on state-maintained roads can fill out a form to pay for damage to their cars or to their person caused on those routes. It requires details from car registration, make and model, down to the date, time and location where the damage happened. The form also requires at least two cost estimates and a notarized signature.

Kelly Moore, the director of public engagement with SCDOT, says from there, the claims are investigated by the specific county of origin.

Moore says the department has been working to improve the roads as part of the state’s 10-year plan, established in 2017.

“We know there was some deferred maintenance on the system. Those are all things that we’ve been catching up with this increased investment and continue to do so and make those improvements,” Moore said.

Each year, the department pays out hundreds of thousands of dollars for these claims for a variety of issues, like owned trees, dips in the road and lots of potholes.

In the last three years, potholes not only consistently cause more than half of claims made by drivers in the entire state but also represent the majority of the money paid out annually.

Year% Pothole-Related Claims% Payouts Resulting from Pothole Claims

In that same time period, more than $1.17 million was spent on pothole payouts.

“SCDOT maintains the fourth largest highway network in the nation. And so we just have a lot of pavement and potholes are one of the issues that occur on our network, " Moore said. “The other thing that we see is that because they’re in the roadway drivers often aren’t able to get around or see them sometimes,” she added.

Ewart says he doesn’t find in his line of work that potholes cause major issues just mostly wear and tear over time. But potholes can pop tires and crack wheels.

Drivers are entitled to a payout if SCDOT is alerted about the existence of one and it isn’t fixed in “reasonable time,” but if the agency is not aware of the pothole, that might not be the case.

In 2022, the agency paid Charleston County drivers $22,790.10 because of potholes and $75,069.69 over the last three years for the same reason.

The total cost of potholes during that time period for Berkeley County is $34,111.93 and for Dorchester County is $37,726.59.

Though Charleston County ranks number three for the most pothole claims from 2019 to 2021 at 437, it ranks beneath Lexington, Spartanburg, York, and Greenville Counties for the highest payouts related to potholes.

Lexington County had the most pothole claims and highest overall payout in South Carolina in the last three years at 901 total claims and almost $196,000 in total reimbursement payments.

The money comes from the state highway fund, fueled in part by gas tax and registration fees.

Ewart says he doesn’t usually encourage his customers to go through the process because it might not be worth it. He says it’s a band-aid solution.

“Good on them for trying to do something right? But I think that it’s more of a ‘we’ll make you feel better about the situation, but we really won’t do anything about it,’” he said.

Moore says they’re continuing to see progress and have made improvements to the claims reporting system, making it more user-friendly.