Potholes a holey unresolved issue

by Robert Palmer - Date: 2007-04-27 - Word Count: 834 Share This!

Potholes are the bane of every road user. Cars are seriously damaged by them, motorcyclists and cyclists swerve desperately to avoid them, and pedestrians trip over them. The injuries and damage they cause each year costs councils more than �45m to correct, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.

According to recent statistics, private road users in the UK pay out more than �320m for car repairs after hitting potholes. In Scotland, where the condition of the roads is apparently the worst, the average motorist will shell out �276 each year to fix pothole damage to their car.

Potholes are usually caused by the freezing and thawing of water on the road, which loosens road material. When cars drive over this weakened road surface, parts of it break away and a hollow begins to form. This hole will get deeper and deeper as subsequent cars pass over it, progressively causing more and more damage to these vehicles.

They are most likely to start appearing in spring for two reasons. Firstly, the wet weather and freezes of the winter will have started the process of road surface erosion, and secondly, it is more difficult to repair them through the winter months so there will be a large number of untreated holes. These two issues compound to make spring driving in the UK both costly and dangerous.

Research has shown that around 1 in 5 mechanical faults are caused by driving over a poor road surface. The most common issue with potholes is wheel misalignment, which can cost up to �90 to correct. Other issues, which are often more expensive to fix, include damage to tyres, wheels, shock absorbers, springs, stabiliser bars, and upper and lower suspension arms. However, as car design advances so does the complexity of the problems and consequently the cost of repairs.

Garages that are located close to a particularly bad pothole regularly see motorist after motorist coming through their doors with wheel and suspension damage. The problem is so widespread that many mechanics advise out of pocket customers to make a claim for compensation to the local council rather than turning to their car insurance company. It is estimated that around 20% of claims that councils receive are related to pothole damage.

Whilst it should seem fairly straightforward to make a claim for damage that has been directly caused by roads in a poor state of repair, this is not always the case. Firstly, it may not be clear whose responsibility a stretch of road is. Roads on housing estates may be owned by the developer, private roads are likely to be owned by the local residents, whilst Transport for London is the responsible party for some lanes in London.

Even if there is no question that a road is owned by the council, it can still be very difficult to get compensation for pothole damage so it is best to make your application armed with as much information as possible.

It is advisable to measure and take pictures of the pothole which caused the damage, get a report from the garage who repaired the car, and talk to local residents and garages about other drivers who have had similar experiences with that pothole. It is also very useful to find out the approximate date when the pothole appeared, which local people can often help with.

However, even the most prepared of motorists may get their initial application turned down by their council. One lady claims that her request for compensation has been turned down despite the fact she had reported a series of potholes the day before they caused her car to skid across a road, resulting in �2,500 worth of damage. She has had to turn to her car insurance company to pay for the damage, losing her no claims bonus in the process.

The reason that there are so many potholes on the UK's roads is that of a �1bn shortfall in road budget. Many councils are unable to afford to mend all the holes on their roads and are even less able to afford the resulting claims for compensation. It seems the situation is deteriorating further, with 2005 seeing a 42% rise in the number of pothole-related claims made to councils.

It seems that, unless there are some changes implemented soon, there will continue to be thousands of people losing cheap motor insurance rates as they claim on their policies in order to afford repairs. It is not known how many accidents are caused by road users hitting a pothole or swerving to avoid a pothole but it is likely that there will be injuries and possibly even deaths as long as the situation goes unresolved.

In the meantime, motorists should report dangerous potholes to their local council so that they can at least be scheduled in for repairs. Most councils offer an online pothole reporting service which can be found on their website, although some will require you to telephone, email or write to them.

Potholes a holey unresolved issue
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