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Pothole-related breakdowns up

The RAC has just published its quarterly update on pothole-related breakdowns. In the 12 months to the end of March this year there were 27,205. This was 10% more than the 12 months to March 2023, 15% more than to March 2022 but 10% fewer than the 28,670 to March 2021.

Could that mean there is some room for optimism? The RAC thinks not, explaining that the 27,205 would have been much higher, had there been the usual frosty spells over winter – rather than unusually mild weather. It suggests that this was the reason there were fewer pothole-related call outs in the first quarter of 2024 compared to the first quarter of 2023.

“While many would rightly say the roads are terrible, we believe they would have been far worse had we not had such a mild winter,” said the RAC’s head of policy Simon Williams in a press release. “We feel drivers have dodged the pothole bullet as the lack of widespread sub-zero temperatures has masked the true state of our roads.”

Looking back to when its records start in 2006, the RAC reports that a car is 1.76 times more likely to suffer a break down due to pothole damage than it was back then. And that figure doesn’t take into account punctures, which the RAC deliberatively excludes from the data since they could be due to other sources.

The RAC is urging both road users and local authorities to use a new pothole app to record and report potholes. Called Stan, it was developed by Metricell and the RAC, and can be used to take photos and report potholes or in automatic mode while driving. In the latter case, it uses the camera on a smartphone and AI to spot potholes and other defects in the road.

The aim of Stan is to create a UK map of road defects, which will hopefully make the condition of our roads clearer and issues of funding less easy for central government to ignore. The latest Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) study estimates that it would cost £16.3bn and take 10 years to get roads back to a good condition. The Government has promised £8.3bn, re-allocated after the cancellation of the second phase of HS2, over 11 years, on top of the existing £5.5bn budget.

The RAC says that councils should download information from Stan so that they have a better picture of their road conditions. But it’s not clear what this means for pothole claims. Local authorities can refuse to pay pothole damage claims if they can show that they could not have reasonably been expected to know that the condition of the road could cause danger – thanks to Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980. If pothole information is freely available through Stan, perhaps that will have a bearing on future claims.


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