In a rut over potholes?

Blog post posted on 23/04/18 |

The ‘beast from the east’ left many things in its wake; poor retail sales figures, an extended skiing season in the Scottish mountains and of course lots of potholes!

Even before the storms, my phone had already started ringing with local journalists looking for comments on poor road surfaces and social media was full of pictures of bathtub sized holes.

In many ways, local councils had been lucky in recent years with relatively benign winters leaving their roads in slightly better condition. However, that perfect storm of bad weather, growing traffic numbers and years of public sector cutbacks suddenly brought the issue of poor roads right back into the limelight.

The government’s response was predictable. Firstly they say it’s a local issue and then they suddenly find an extra £100 million for a pothole fund. A useful contribution but as one very senior transport civil servant told in a meeting I was at last week, ”It’s remarkable how little impact £100 million can make.” Rather depressing! The RAC and AA are reporting record numbers of pothole-related breakdowns and no doubt in time we shall see a spike in claims to councils.

Evidence is also growing of injuries to cyclists and pedestrians due to poor roads and pavements. The problem is we have all been here before. Bad weather a few years ago led to a little more money and the setting up of the HMEP (Highway Maintenance Efficiency Programme). 

This was going to solve the problem through shared knowledge and resources, and a shift to high quality repairs rather than short term fixes. Many of you may have noticed the growth in road rebuilding involving a week/fortnight closure to fully resurface a road. Unfortunately mother nature and under investment has intervened and the ‘patchers’ are back out there with a vengeance.

Emergency funds are welcome but many councils struggle to spend the unplanned money in any rational way. Only committed long term funding and political will to eliminate the backlog will work. There is some light at the end of the tunnel as from 2020, the income from VED (Vehicle Excise Duty) will be entirely dedicated to roads – a real step change which will allow some real planning to take place.

Despite these funding and technical changes, eliminating potholes is always going to take time. What can you as a driver or rider do in the meantime? Well applying the principles of advanced driving will help.

Observation: expect potholes and look out for clues such as lose chippings, puddles or places where lorries or buses turn or stop.

Anticipation: potholes are creatures of habit and will return to the same places again and again, so remember where you last saw them and be prepared for cyclists and other road users trying to avoid them.

Planning: if you see a pothole, report it to your local council as it will help get it fixed and a fellow driver who may be making a claim. Have a camera handy to record any that you do hit.

To finish on an even more depressing note, the sudden arrival of an early summer has moved the media on to new topics with potholes no longer hogging the front pages. IAM RoadSmart will continue to lobby for long term investment but all road users must continue to raise the issue when their local politicians come door stepping. We can’t afford to forget about potholes for yet another year until the rain, snow and frost come knocking again.

By Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart’s director of policy and research