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The Massive Toll Of Pothole Damage


The Massive Toll Of Pothole Damage

It has to be one of the most sickening sounds any driver can hear - that unmistakable ‘crash’ as your car’s wheel - indeed, the whole suspension, underside and body - are pounded by another pothole.

And, judging by a recent article in the Wolverhampton Express & Star, the problem has reached such a critical situation that there are more than two-and-a-half potholes for every mile of road in the UK - it quotes figures of 31,000 potholes currently to be found on the 12,000-mile road network throughout England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It blames the gaping gaps for as many as one in 10 of all breakdowns on our roads, and says the annual cost to motorists for getting the damage put right is as high as £730million.

When you’ve just splashed out on a new, or even a good quality used car, and spent thousands of pounds of your hard-earned cash in the process, you need to be aware of the damage which you might incur through an encounter with a major fault in the road surface.


Pothole Damage Dangers

The RAC says the most obvious area where pothole damage impacts is on a vehicle’s tyres and wheels.

“Initial impact on a vehicle can cause buckled wheels, cracks, lumps in the tyre, cracked alloys, and can knock out the tracking and wheel balancing,” it warns.

And with a recent report finding that a third of all recorded vehicle damage is as a result of potholes, it also wants drivers to be aware that in severe cases, they can even lose control of their car, and thereby run the risk of being involved in a serious accident, possibly injuring themselves and other drivers and road users.

To try to avoid hitting problems, the RAC recommends:

  • Paying close attention to the road ahead - particularly in wet weather when puddles might conceal a deep hole
  • Keeping your distance from the vehicle in front - this gives you a better chance of spotting holes sooner and being able to take evasive action safely
  • Not driving too fast for the conditions - speed is a major aggravating factor in pothole strikes, and can make the damage far worse
  • Avoiding braking when you drive over a pothole - this places more force on the front wheels, so is likely to mean them sustaining worse damage
  • Keeping proper hold of the steering wheel - holding it firmly, but not too tightly, with your hands in a ‘10-to-2’ position, can ensure that you don’t lose control if caught out by a sudden jolt.

If you still have a sharp encounter with a pothole, it further suggests:

  • Stopping in a safe place if you need to inspect any possible damage to your vehicle
  • Getting a local garage to check out the damage as soon as you can after any incident, and
  • Asking the mechanic specifically to look out for damage to your tyres, their tracking (the direction in which they all point), wheel alignment and suspension.

Damage caused by a pothole might mean you have a right to claim compensation from the local council or private company responsible for maintaining the stretch of road on which the incident happened.

But for a claim to be successful, it’s a good idea to note the following details at the time it happens:

  • The exact location of the incident
  • The location of the pothole on the road itself
  • Its size and, if measurable, depth, and
  • If possible getting a picture of the offending hole.

However, councils can reject any claim if they can prove that they regularly inspect the area concerned for such damage, and that their most recent inspection found no problems.


What Causes Potholes?

They begin to form when moisture gets into cracks in the road surface and these then expand when the surface freezes. Vehicles driving over the holes steadily makes them bigger, in time causing damage to the structure of the road below its surface layer. Bad weather, and repeated freeze-thaw and wet-dry cycles make roads far more susceptible to potholing.

However, it’s not just the weather that is to blame for the problem, as the RAC points out. “The rise in potholes across the UK has stemmed from many cash-strapped councils’ reactive ‘patch and dash’ approach which means rather than resurfacing roads properly, potholes are repaired individually in a hurry, and sometimes in wet weather, leading to them quickly breaking down and reappearing,” it says.

It has been campaigning for councils to adopt more planned preventative road maintenance programmes, as in the longer-term, these would be a more efficient and cost-effective way of dealing with the issue.

While local councils have often been proactive in making it possible for motorists to report potholes, by a number of means, including social media channels, you still need to ascertain whether it, Highways England, or a private organisation is responsible for the road’s upkeep, in order to direct any complaint through the right channels in the first place.

And whilst the government has for the first time set aside a pot of money for councils to repair potholes, many local authorities believe the £1.5million made available will go nowhere near solving the whole problem.

Chancellor George Osborne did pledge to boost that fund to £250million in his last Autumn Statement - but cynics may feel that much of this might be diverted to other road projects.


A Growing Menace

Experienced drivers say they have noticed an appreciable deterioration in the condition of many roads, with over-50s insurance specialist Saga finding in a survey of more than 10,000 drivers in this age group - nine out of 10 of whom it points out are regular drivers, so will have good insight into the state of the roads they use - that, overwhelmingly, they felt road conditions had significantly deteriorated over their years behind the wheel.

Further research by another insurer, LV=, found that the average motorist faced a bill of £267 to repair damage sustained after hitting a pothole, and that 12,000 miles of the UK’s road network were affected by the problem.

Its research also highlighted the 10 worst blackspots which had resulted in the highest number of insurance claims for pothole damage in the previous year. The worst-hit stretch, in Ash Vale, near Guildford, Surrey, was responsible for 31 claims, it found. And while none of the spots highlighted were in Shropshire, the fact that there are so many rural roads in the county which are most susceptible to frost damage in winter means drivers are constantly having to be on their guard against new hazards.

Have you had a close encounter with a pothole? And where are the worst spots in Shropshire for the problem? Let us know in the comments, or on our Facebook page.