Eight million drivers stuck in a rut with a pothole-damaged vehicle

Posted on 20/11/23 |
  • More than half of British drivers1 are regularly steering away or braking hard to try and avoid damage from potholes.
  • Around 8 million (16%) of drivers2 have needed repairs due to road surface defects. 

Despite the Department for Transport (DfT) announcing £8.3 billion HS2 funding to help improve local roads across the country, the poor state of Britain’s highways has forced the equivalent of 8 million* (16%) motorists off the road to repair their vehicle due to pothole damage, according to research commissioned by the UK’s largest road safety charity, IAM RoadSmart.  

The latest road safety report from IAM RoadSmart shows drivers are at breaking point over the state of road surfaces with a staggering 77% saying potholes are a bigger problem now than they were three years ago, and almost a fifth (19%) of licence holders are regularly reporting potholes to local highways authorities.  

Breakdown group the RAC3 reported record figures for pothole-related breakdowns in the third quarter of this year with their patrols rescuing 5,978 drivers between July and September.   

If pothole-related damage and potential safety fears over the driveability of a pothole-damaged vehicle were not enough, IAM RoadSmart’s figures reveal that worryingly over half (57%) are regularly having to steer away or brake hard to try and avoid damage from potholes. More than a third (33%) of motorists reported that they often change their route to avoid roads with lots of potholes. Swerving or braking sharply to avoid hitting a pothole can cause an avoidable and serious collision. 

The dangers posed by poorly maintained roads are laid bare in DfT’s road safety data2 with 5,761 collisions caused by a defective road surface between 2013-2022, of which 91 were fatal.  

Nicholas Lyes, Director of Policy and Standards at IAM RoadSmart, said: 

“Potholes cause untold misery for drivers and riders and are a major road safety hazard that have caused thousands of injuries over the last five years. The DfT’s funding announcement is a welcome and sizeable amount of spending from the Government, and it should give local authorities the cash injection needed to bring road surfaces up to an adequate standard. It may also be time to require local authorities to put up temporary signage to warn motorists of the rutted surface ahead."

“The sheer misery that potholes are causing drivers cannot be underestimated. Not only is it expensive and inconvenient having to get your vehicle fixed, but it’s also a major safety concern affecting all road users. Potholes pose a serious risk of injury or worse, especially with motorists having to steer away or brake hard to try and avoid any damage from potholes. For those on two wheels, hitting a pothole can have a catastrophic effect by launching a rider off their motorcycle or bicycle.

“Drivers navigating pothole-riddled roads should remember that while hitting a pothole could land you with a hefty repair bill, the consequences of trying to avoid one can cause a nasty collision. A steady pace looking well ahead down the road is the best approach, if you do brake for a pothole, release the brake to allow the wheel to roll into it this will minimise the impact. If the road surface does look suspect slow down, give yourself time to avoid the worst of it." 

“The Government is rolling out lane-rental schemes across the country which will make a difference, however funding repairs is the biggest obstacle to getting on top of the problem. Local authorities must have the resources to make our roads safer and smoother for all road users.“ 

RAC spokesman Rod Dennis said:

“Put simply, potholes are a menace – not only can they be extremely costly if a driver is unlucky enough to break down after a hitting one, but they pose a road safety danger too, especially for people on two wheels. Unfortunately, a long-term lack of funding has resulted in many roads ending up in a terrible state. Our recent analysis of government data highlighted a huge reduction in the amount of surface dressing and resurfacing carried out by councils, which helps why potholes have sadly become the norm."

“We very much hope that the promise of new funding made by the Government last week marks a turning point, as it gives councils far more to better look after the roads. For drivers, clearly this can’t happen soon enough.”

*Based on hypothecating GB Licence figures – up to end of Aug 2023 https://www.data.gov.uk/dataset/d0be1ed2-9907-4ec4-b552-c048f6aec16a/gb-driving-licence-data  

**Data from IAM RoadSmart’s Safety Culture Report 2022 




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