The UK’s perennial pothole problem shows no sign of ending any time soon, according to the latest breakdown data analysed by the RAC.
While, as is customary, the total number of pothole-related breakdowns, such as damaged shock absorbers, broken suspension springs and distorted wheels, attended by RAC patrols in the third quarter of the year dropped substantially to 1,746, the number of such call-outs seen over the last 12 months remains stubbornly high. In the last year the RAC dealt with 14,220 breakdowns where the overwhelming likelihood was that they were caused by potholes – this represents 1.5% of all its call-outs during this period. This is the second highest percentage ever recorded since the RAC started analysing this data in 2006, with the highest being 1.6% – a figure previously only seen during 2015 and 2017. The Pothole Index, which is the RAC’s long-term indicator of the health of the UK’s roads, also shows that things are not getting any better as the index remains considerably higher than it was in the third quarter of 2017 when it was 2.38. In fact, with the index now standing at 2.63, motorists are now more than 2.5 times as likely to suffer a pothole breakdown than they were 12 years ago. The record high index figure was 3.5 in Q1 2010 when motorists were 3.5 times more likely to breakdown due hitting a pothole as they were in 2006. The ongoing pothole problem highlighted by the RAC Pothole Index is clearly in line with drivers’ views as research for the RAC’s 2018 Report on Motoring has found the state of local roads to now be the issue of greatest concern. Data from the comprehensive study of motoring trends now in its 30th year shows a marked increase in the proportion of drivers who say the state of local roads is one of their top overall concerns, up from 33% in 2017 to 42% in 2018. More specifically, 17% cite this as their number-one concern compared to 10% in 2017. In addition, two-thirds of the 1,808 drivers surveyed (66%) said the condition of local roads had deteriorated in the last 12 months which represents a worrying increase on 2017 when the percentage was 51%. Motorists who live in the East of England (81%), the East Midlands (82%) or Scotland (78%) had an even greater tendency to say conditions have become worse than the UK average. Among those who say conditions are worse in 2018, the overwhelming majority (98%) blame road surfaces – this is an even higher proportion than the 92% who said this last year. While overall concern about the state of motorways and high-speed dual carriageways has not increased significantly in 2018 relative to other issues, there is a growing number of motorists who feel the condition of these roads has also deteriorated over the last 12 months. When asked specifically for their views on the condition of the UK’s roads, 78% agreed the state of them – including motorways and major dual carriageways as well as local roads – was ‘generally poor’. Less than one in 10 (9%) disagreed with this. RAC chief engineer David Bizley said: “There is little doubt local road conditions in many parts of the country are substandard and have been so for quite some time. Data from this quarter’s RAC Pothole Index supports this showing there has been a steady deterioration in road condition over the last 18 months with the latest quarter not showing a significant improvement. We cannot simply blame Storm Emma and the Beast from the East, even though they certainly made matters worse. “This is consistent both with motorists’ views from this year’s RAC Report on Motoring research and the annual independent study carried out by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) which shows the backlog in terms of road repairs and maintenance continues to grow. The AIA also found that around 20% of local roads are in ‘poor structural condition’, which means they have five years of life or less remaining. “The Government has continued to make some efforts to address the issue. In March 2018 a further £100m was made available to help local authorities repair potholes and storm damage that had resulted from the harsh winter weather. “However, this needs to be seen in the context of the maintenance backlog of over £9.3bn reported by the AIA which is their estimate of the one-off investment required to return local roads to a state that is fit-for purpose. We need a 10-year plan with ring-fenced funding that will eliminate the backlog of preventative maintenance that will stop the plague of potholes appearing every time there is bad weather.”