Guest post by Mark Smith
For as long as there have been roads, there have been potholes. Small cracks form in the surface of the road, through which water can infiltrate. This water pools beneath the road, where it contracts and expands in response to changing temperature. Eventually, the road collapses into the hole, causing a hazard that’s cost motorists millions over the years.
Coping with this problem is an ongoing task for the highway authorities. In his Budget in March 2020, Rishi Sunak pledged £2.5 billion to repair 50 million potholes.
A recent freedom of information request from specialist insurer Carole Nash has found that Kensington and Chelsea in London reported the fewest potholes, at just 141. Other areas of London featured in the top ten, including Hammersmith and Fulham, at 1,283. At the other end of the spectrum we have Cornwall, which came in with 210,311. Following close behind were Cambridgeshire (184,402) and Derbyshire (172,297).
Researchers found that while nine in ten motorists had been affected by potholes, just one in six had made a report, and just one in fourteen had made a claim for damage caused by potholes.
Mark Copper is Head of Product at Carole Nash. He was quick to highlight the seriousness of the problem. “Potholes continue to be an ongoing issue for all motorists and shockingly the number of damaged roads is now estimated to be in the millions. Unfortunately, the government is falling behind on trying to repair them, with the backlog going back 14 years or so and costing in the region of £12 billion to fix.”
Of course, it’s difficult to make direct comparisons between different councils. This is so for the obvious reason that there is more road in Cornwall than there is in Kensington. But this is only part of the problem: the way that councils record potholes differs greatly, too. 70% of councils define a pothole as a 40mm deep cavity in the road – which is a depth sufficient to inflict serious damage to a vehicle travelling at speed.
According to Highways England, however, there are different categories of pothole – and only the most severe (category one) will be urgently repaired with twenty-eight days of it being reported. These are 40mm deep and 150mm wide. For the rest, the limit is six months – during which time they can easily worsen.
As Cooper points out: “The most important thing to takeaway here is that all motorists should be reporting potholes to their local council as this is the only way we can ensure the upkeep of our roads in the future.”