The wet weather and the risk of freezing conditions in the coming weeks are threatening to deliver the worst pothole season seen in the UK.
Experts are warning that crumbling roads could deteriorate further, posing a major risk to company car and van drivers, and increased bills for fleets.
Rory Buckley, from Warranty Direct’s potholes.co.uk, said: “The worst is yet to come. This wet weather will be saturating roads right across the UK, with existing potholes channelling water to weaken the road’s substructure, paving the way for even more potholes and defects to arise.”
Halfords Autocentres has estimated that potholes left vehicles requiring repairs worth £1.2 billion last year – a rise of 16% in just 12 months.
It claims more than 8.9 million vehicles suffered steering or suspension damage, while potholes reported to councils increased 18% during the same period, according to motoring and cycling websites monitoring this issue.
Some individual regions had far higher incidences of pothole damage than others – with drivers on the south coast collectively being hit hardest with an £85 million repair bill, closely followed by motorists in Kent and the East Midlands, who pay around £78m and £75m respectively.
Buckley said: “Potholes and other road defects can cause sudden jarring or regular jarring which accelerates wear and tear to axle and suspension components, often leading to failure. Damage to wheel rims and punctured tyres are also a common fault of potholes.”
The Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) suggests that the UK’s roads are pitted with as many as two million potholes and recent reports suggest the problem is growing.
For example, since the start of 2014, 1,800 potholes were reported to just one local authority, Dorset County Council.
Rory Carlin, from Halfords Autocentres, said: “The surface of our roads is deteriorating to the point where drivers are now likely to encounter a potentially-damaging pothole during most journeys.”
Potholes are created when heavy rainfall undermines the lower, structural layers of the road, creating cracks, fissures and more potholes – which are then enlarged by a daily procession of vehicles widening and deepening the craters.
The average repair bill for damage to vehicles caused by potholes is estimated at £140, and insurance companies attribute as many as one in five mechanical vehicle failures to pothole-related damage.
However, when you also take into account the commercial impact of having a van off the road, respondents to a Freight Transport Association (FTA) survey put the cost, on average, at around £3,000 per incident.
The Pothole Review commissioned by Department for Transport (DfT) and supported by, among others, the FTA, estimated that, on average, businesses affected by poor road conditions lose more than £8,000 per year on vehicle damage and increased fuel costs.
Under the Highways Act, fleets can claim compensation from councils for damage to vehicles caused by roads. But to succeed they must prove that the local authority was aware of the pothole that caused the damage.
However, the FTA says that few fleets pursue this option and those that have reported a less than 50% success rate.
The Government says it will provide more than £3bn to local authorities in England (excluding London) between 2011/2012 to 2015/2016, plus an additional £200m in 2011 following the severe winter.
Last June, the DfT announced a further £5.8bn for local highways maintenance from 2015/2016 to 2020/2021. This equates to around £976m per year, a funding increase of £163m a year.
The Alarm survey from AIA concluded that it would cost £10.5bn for a one-off blitz to get the roads back into a reasonable condition. However, that could increase if, as expected, freezing weather causes another plague of potholes.
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