Drivers have been advised to be extra wary of potholes, particularly during the winter months, after the RAC revealed an increase in breakdowns caused by this common bugbear of motorists.

Potholes are a frequent hazard during times of cold weather, as they are worsened by water seeping into cracks in the road, freezing and expanding.

An enduring problem

RAC patrols were called to 20 per cent more pothole-related breakdowns in the fourth quarter of 2019 than in the same period a year earlier.

The recovery specialist said it attended more than 2,000 breakdowns that were most likely caused by poor-quality roads in the final three months of last year.

Throughout 2019, 9,200 of all the breakdowns experienced by individual members of the RAC were caused by pothole-related faults, such as distorted wheels, broken suspension springs and damaged shock absorbers.

In the previous year, the ‘Beast from the East’ weather system led to a dramatic increase in potholes, which were thought to have contributed to 13,000 incidents that resulted in RAC callouts.

The firm keeps a Pothole Index to provide a long-term indicator of the health of the UK’s roads, which is currently at 1.7, down from 1.8 in the third quarter of 2019. This means drivers are 1.7 times more likely to break down because of pothole-related damage than they were in 2006, when data collection began.

UK drivers have seen relatively mild conditions during the winter of 2019-20 so far, but the RAC said it was concerned that the “inevitable arrival of colder conditions” will lead to an outbreak of more potholes.

The root of the problem

Nicholas Lyes, head of roads policy at the RAC, said the problem of potholes has clearly not gone away, despite weather conditions that are milder but wetter than in recent years. The company’s patrols are still attending one pothole-related breakdown every hour of the day, on average.

The government will announce its next Budget in March, and could provide further funds to help councils fix local roads.

However, Mr Lyes pointed out that such measures are “only chipping away at the problem” and not addressing the “root cause of why so much of the UK is still characterised by crumbling road surfaces”.

“What we need is for central government to think differently about how councils are funded to maintain the roads under their control,” he added. “Short-term commitments of cash, while welcome, are not enough on their own – councils need the security of long-term funding so they can plan proper preventative road maintenance.”

Mr Lyes also said UK drivers should be able to expect the vast majority of roads they drive on to be of a good standard, given the £40 billion they pay in motoring-related taxes every year.

Heather Stark, brand manager at The Fuelcard People, comments: “Anyone who has driven on a British road in the winter will know the pain of hitting a particularly nasty pothole. But as these RAC figures show, potholes aren’t just inconvenient – they pose a real risk to cars and motorists. Let’s hope the government can find a long-term solution to this issue soon.”

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