Gone to pot – the parlous state of British roads

PotholeMind the gap!” is a warning more often given to travellers on the London Underground than road users. But motorists are being warned to be on their guard against monster potholes – which are expected to litter UK roads over the next few months. Potholes traditionally appear on the road network in greater numbers between January and April each year. And this year looks set to deliver a bumper crop of the dangerous dents in the tarmac, which are made worse by the sort of wet weather and freezing temperatures the UK has endured of late, and which is forecast to continue. The Met Office reported that parts of southern England got around twice the average amount of rainfall normally expected in December. Not only does this mean more potholes, it also means more “invisible potholes”, which are harder to spot because they are filled with rainwater, and are particularly treacherous when you are driving in the dark. What’s more, any new potholes are unlikely to be filled in quickly as there are already some 200,000 in need of repair. All this is likely to lead to more pothole-related accidents, which have become increasingly common over the last few years as it is. Claims for cars damaged due to potholes have jumped 159% over the last three years, and 22% last year alone.


Warranty Direct, which insures motorists against mechanical damage, runs a potholes awareness campaign (potholes.co.uk). It estimates that pothole-related repair bills came to almost £730million as a result. And it is expecting the bill this year to be even higher due to the heavy rainfall that undermines the lower, structural layers of the road creating cracks, fissures and more potholes. Warranty Direct’s Rory Buckley said: “This wet weather will be saturating roads right across the UK, with existing potholes channelling water to weaken the road’s substructure, literally paving the way for even more potholes and defects to arise.” Punctured tyres are a common problem associated with potholes. It can often be more serious than that, though. While the average repair bill (for privately owned vehicles) is £247, claim costs can be up to £2,700. “Potholes and other road defects can cause sudden jarring or regular jarring which accelerates wear and tear to axle and suspension components, often leading to failure,” Buckley said. “Damage to wheel rims is also a common.”

Patch work

Despite the average cost of repairing a pothole only coming in about £50 a pop, the high number – around two million have been filled in over the last year at a cost of £99 million – also means an estimated £740 million shortfall in the UK’s annual road structural budget. There are some estimates that it would take £10 billion to bring the UK’s road network up to scratch. But others argue that constantly patching-up damages stretches of the highway is not a long term solution, and that investment of £50 billion is needed on a programme of rebuilding that reflects contemporary road usage. Sounds a lot of money, but it’s no more than the government wants to spend on the HS2 railway – and a lot more people use the roads every day than will ever want to shave 30 minutes of their journey from London to Birmingham. But for now it’s clearly worth taking extra care on the roads, keeping your eyes peeled and even varying your route if you know a particular road is pockmarked with deep holes.

How are the roads in your neck of the woods? Have you ever suffered mechanical damage thanks to a pothole?

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