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Potholes and Frost Heaves on Nova Scotia Roads

Guest Post from Art Brown, Workplace Consultant and JOHS Committee Co-Chair, WCB Nova Scotia

Over the past few weeks we have all heard from someone we know or on the news about the dangers of potholes – maybe not so much about frost heaves.  Both can be equally dangerous and cause damage to your car or, worse, cause an accident. During Nova Scotia’s extended spring weather, it’s important to be aware of these hazards and know how to protect yourself and your vehicle. 

What causes potholes? 
Nova Scotia’s frequent cold to warm days with melting snow and rain play a big role in causing potholes. The more this happens, the more potholes we get.  This year had a high number of these cycles; therefore, there seems to be more potholes than usual.  When water gets down into cracks in the pavement or concrete, it freezes and expands. When it is in a crack or fissure in the roadway, it will cause that crack or fissure to grow. Add traffic, and the problem worsens when chunks of pavement are dislodged.  For every warm wet day with a cold night, there are more and more chunks of pavement coming loose.  Over a short period of time, large holes can appear that will swallow the wheel of a car. 

What causes frost heaves? 
When water is trapped beneath the pavement and freezes, it can result in significant heaving to the pavement.  Sometimes it feels like a series of small speed bumps, but at times can be big enough for your car’s suspension to bottom out.  This can result in suspension damage. 

What can you do? 
Here are some tips to help make your trip safer:

1. Slow down in areas where you know there are frost heaves and potholes. Plan for the extra few minutes of travel time.  

2. Scan the road ahead and drive defensively: 
• Keep scanning the roadway ahead of the vehicle in front of you. Do not stay fixated on the lane immediately ahead.
• Look for vehicles moving to the right or left in their lane, and consider whether they may be responding to road conditions.
• Don’t tailgate.  Stay back far enough from the vehicle in front of you so you have time to react.  A safe following distance is at least two seconds behind the vehicle in front of you during ideal conditions, and longer during adverse weather or hazardous conditions.
• Look for standing water on the road.  It may have accumulated in a pothole, and you will not be able to see how deep it is. 
• Expect every expansion joint on an overpass to have a pothole.  

3. Pay attention to your driving: 
• Stay off the phone – even if it is hands free. In Ontario, distracted driving is now causing more driving-related deaths than drinking and driving (Ontario Provincial Police).
• Do not adjust the radio.  Pick your station and volume before you start your trip.
• Do not try to steal glances of the video you are playing for the kids.
• No personal grooming while driving.  Do it before you go or when you get there.

4. Look for standing water in the ditch or places along the road where the ditch is very shallow.  There will likely be frost heaves.

5. Watch the back of the transport trucks.   If they sway, then they are likely bouncing over potholes or frost heaves. 
6. Take a defensive driving course that teaches you how to scan the road for danger.

 Drive safe and drive to arrive.  We have several more weeks of “pothole season” so please be safe.

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