As they exit a fraught 18 months, drivers are getting back on the road and running into an old enemy: potholes. Responsible for damaging tyres, wheels, and suspension systems, as well as being responsible for a fair share of spilled drink disasters and subsequent trips to the valet, potholes are one of the most hated aspects of British roads, with research from 2012 finding that 57% of motorists saw them as the worst road feature.
Potholes are certainly unwelcome, but as we exit the pandemic, is there a pothole epidemic? In this guide, we explore the statistics to see whether UK authorities are making headway when it comes to filling in holes in the country’s roads.
How many potholes are there in the UK?
According to the Asphalt Industry Alliance’s ALARM survey, the number of potholes filled in in roads in England and Wales increased by just over 13% in a single year – from 1.5 million in 2019/2020, to 1.7 million in 2020/2021.
As a result, the share of council-maintained English roads in poor condition (those with less than five years’ life remaining) fell from 21% in 2019/2020 to 16% in 2020/2021. The picture in Wales was not so sunny, however, with the share rising from 20% to 21%.
The figures for England are certainly cause for celebration. Councils have been taking advantage of the lack of traffic on British roads during the pandemic to shore up the road system, with the number of holes reducing in kind. That said, however, Edmund King, president of the AA, told the BBC in 2020 that many of the roads being fixed were major roads, and that minor roads were still in a “perilous state”.
What is the true cost of potholes?
While pothole numbers are going down, they’re still costing drivers a pretty penny in repair fees, and as such, councils are still having to fork out plenty of cash – £15 million in 2021, according to the ALARM survey.
That’s only a drop in the ocean when it comes the true cost, however. A 2021 analysis by Kwik Fit found that the cost of pothole damage totalled £1.267 billion in 2020/2021, up from £1.249 billion in 2019/2020. Drivers reported hitting 11 potholes per month, with 10.2 million experiencing damage to their cars due to holes in the road.
This means that, especially for people that own a less dependable classic car, insurance is now crucial, given the extreme stress pockmarked roads put on older vehicles’ old-fashioned suspension systems. While Kwik fit’s research found that the tyres were most likely to be damaged by potholes (4.3 million drivers), suspension came second (3 million), followed by wheels (2.8 million) and steering systems (2 million).
Is there a pothole divide?
Car insurance providers, Carole Nash, submitted Freedom of Information requests to UK councils in 2021. According to their research, the places in the UK with the most potholes in 2021 were Cornwall (210,311 potholes), Cambridgeshire (184,402), Derbyshire (172,297), Devon (147,779), and Oxfordshire (110,106).
Conversely, the councils that reported the least potholes to Carole Nash were Kensington and Chelsea in London (141), the Isle of Anglesey (290), Sunderland (320), Rutland (687), and Portsmouth (811).
This shows that there is not a rural-urban divide when it comes to potholes, or even a North-South one. If anything, London’s roads should be in much worse state, given that the ALARM survey found the budget shortfall experienced by councils there in 2020/2021 was over half their average budgets (£4.5 million compared to the £4 million allotted).
On the other hand, in England the shortfall was just £4.6 million, compared to the average budget of £17.5 million received, while in Wales the shortfall was £3.8 million compared to a £3.3 million average budget.
How should potholes be tackled? Do councils need more funding, and if so, where should this funding come from? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.