Recent road fatalities involving motorcyclists riding into potholes have again brought to the forefront the pressing need to address the long-standing issue that has needlessly claimed lives.

Statistics highlight the increasing trend. A paper published in 2017 revealed that from 2000 to 2011, a total of 840 people died in road accidents resulting from pothole-related mishaps, with the number of deaths climbing to almost 100 alone in 2011.

The total represented 11.2% of the 7,486 traffic accident deaths that were attributed to road defects during the period, and placed potholes as the third major cause of fatalities within the category.

While total deaths due to accidents caused by road defects account for just 11.25% of the more than 65,000 road traffic deaths recorded during the 12-year period, they still represent a significant loss of life, and in the case of potholes, likely preventable if action to correct them was taken quickly. And properly, as will be noted later.

The thing is, we doubt most people expect pristine surfaces across the entire paved road network in the country, but perhaps more can be done to ensure that less mishaps occur with as much elimination of potential road hazards as possible. We won’t even bring in too low or high-set manhole covers as a result of resurfacing work, which is a hazard by itself and another cause of fatalities (273 deaths from 2000 to 2011).

Potholes usually result from the underlying soil being softened by excess water, with traffic load causing the road surface to crack or sink. Improper road resurfacing following utility work can also lead to road failure. Continued exposure to water from rainfall and poor drainage can also cause the asphalt to weaken and rupture, with loading of the pavement from traffic causing small holes and tears to eventually become larger.

Previously collected data has shown that potholes occur more frequently during months where there is extended and heavier rain, specifically the months of April, July, November and December. With the current rainy spell, it’s no surprise to see more potholes and asphalt breakages emerging of late.

That potholes are a common occurrence is inescapable, but it is ensuring that they are corrected, and corrected properly, is the issue that needs to be addressed.

Following the recent public outcry over the matter, the works ministry, through the public works department (JKR), reiterated its promise (first made in 2016) to repair potholes within 24 hours as pledged in its Aku Janji Zero Potholes (“I Promise Zero Potholes”) campaign.

It has said that potholes of diameters less than 200 mm will be filled immediately, with no cutting involved, with permanent repairs carried out within three days. In general, the former is usually fixed via a throw-and-roll method where a cold mix patch is placed into the hole and compacted. Proper pothole repair using hot mix premix compounds take time, as it requires road-cutting using heavy machinery and cleaning beforehand.

The problem is that the expedient fix usually doesn’t last long, sometimes no more than a couple of days, more so in rainy weather, and before you know it, the hole is back. We’re sure that many road users can point to such repeat occurrences coming about regularly.

Sometimes, the issue persists despite continued rectification efforts. Such is the case with Jalan Tengah in KL, where a pothole claimed the life of a 75-year-old motorcyclist a few days ago. According to Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL), which has jurisdiction of the stretch of road, repair work on the road has been carried out no less than nine times since September, the last being done on December 26.

The council – which said in 2016 the city would be pothole-free by 2017 – said that it constantly monitors and takes action in repairing potholes by conducting patrols and making immediate patches at locations where roads are damaged, but said that “as damage to the road surface happens too often, DBKL has appointed geo-technical consultant Messrs Ikram to study and investigate the cause.”

It added that a total of 11,979 cases of road damage cases, including potholes, were recorded last year, with all eventually repaired. Of these, 7,735 cases were detected through city hall patrols, while 4,244 cases were called in via public complaints. It sounds impressive, but scant consolation after the latest fact.

Road surface damage as a result of environmental factors and amplified by increasing traffic rates will undoubtedly continue, but the point is to ensure that this damage is repaired promptly and in proper fashion, something that doesn’t happen always, unless you are a person of note.

While potholes won’t be completely eradicated, the question is, how should authorities go about addressing it in the best manner possible? Are more resources – and financing – needed to ensure a more prompt response? JKR says the public can utilise up to 11 channels to report complaints regarding the condition of roads, which is plenty, but who ensures that movement is carried out quickly, and is monitoring continued regularly? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter, so share them in the comments section.