The RAC has released its latest pothole index data. That is, the number of breakdowns it attributes to pothole related problems such as damaged shock absorbers, broken suspension springs or distorted wheels.
It’s been a bumper second quarter for 2023 with 8,170 pothole-related breakdowns from April to June. That’s the highest second quarter since 2018 when there were 8,859 breakdowns.
Looking at the picture for the 12 months to June 2023 however, the story is slightly different. Over this period, there were 27,246 pothole related breakdowns, lower than either 2018 or 2021 which both had over 30,000.
There are, of course, a variety of factors that could influence breakdowns due to potholes – and related statistics. Bad winter weather – either freezing spells or high intensity rainfall – can speed up the formation of potholes. Stretched household budgets mean that people may not be replacing older cars as soon as they might have done in the past. Although car sales have been increasing for the past 10 months, volumes still remain lower than they were pre-Covid in 2019, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
Maintenance and spending on road repairs is clearly an important factor too. Data provided to the RAC through a Freedom of Information request from 172 of the UK’s 208 councils with responsibility for roads shows that routine spending on maintenance was up by 17% and spending on planned resurfacing was up 9% in 2021/22 compared to 2018/19. The caveat is that these are absolute values, so materials price inflation could have wiped out those rises.
Councils also reported a 33% fall in payouts for damage to roads over that period. The RAC points out that this could be good news, or it could be bad news. Since councils aren’t obliged to pay out for pothole damage if they aren’t aware of it, the fall could mean that people aren’t reporting potholes as frequently as they were, or they could be forming faster.
In a press release from the RAC, its head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes says: “While spending on our local roads appears to be heading in the right direction, councils are facing a toxic combination of higher material costs, higher contractor and labour costs and a cold and wet recent winter. It may well be the case that even with more money being spent on the roads, much of this will be getting eaten up by inflationary pressures. All of this adds weight to the argument that councils should invest more in innovative machinery that can fix potholes as quickly and permanently as possible.”
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