RAC report uncovers 'desperate state' of UK roads

Published 19 April 2021

Despite a national coronavirus lockdown, RAC patrols went to the aid of 4694 drivers who had most likely broken down as a result of hitting a pothole in the first three months of 2021, new RAC data shows.

This represents a three-fold increase in the number of pothole-related breakdowns from the last quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021 (up 3233 from 1461 in Q4 2020) and is the largest rise between quarters the RAC has ever seen.

In total, 2.4 per cent of all call-outs attended by RAC patrols between January and March were for broken suspension springs, distorted wheels and damaged shock absorbers — the classic symptoms of a driver having hit a pothole.

The numbers highlight the parlous state of many roads, which have been ravaged by the colder winter weather that affected much of the UK between January and March. They also put into focus the enormous task now facing local and national governments to bring road surface standards up to a reasonable level.

Despite promises of more money from central Government, the RAC believes many councils remain stuck in a vicious cycle — unable to properly repair the hundreds, if not thousands, of miles of roads they are responsible for.

Pothole Rural Road

The RAC Pothole Index, a long-term measure of the condition of roads, also increased in the first quarter of 2021 for the first time since early 2018. This suggests that road quality is now in a declining state and means drivers are nearly one-and-a-half times more likely to breakdown as a result of hitting potholes today than they were when the RAC first started collecting the data in 2006.

RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: “These figures highlight what is a genuinely ‘uncomfortable truth’ for both road users as well as local and national governments – that in many cases, the condition of many roads is now in a desperate state. Put simply, we’ve just had the largest quarterly rise in the number of pothole-related breakdowns on record. And the problem risks getting even worse as pandemic restrictions are eased and the roads get busier.

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“In some ways, the quieter roads brought about by national lockdowns could have been an ideal time for councils to start to fix problem road surfaces ready for the arrival of more traffic as restrictions are eased. Sadly, our data suggests this may not have been the case and may also suggest many councils are still simply patching up potholes rather than fixing them properly.

“The RAC has long campaigned for national government to recognise the vital role local roads play and ring-fence some funds over a five-year period to give councils the resources they need to plan and deliver longer-term road maintenance.

"Yet as we can see, a slightly colder than average winter leads to some roads ending up in an appalling condition with local authorities seemingly stuck in a vicious cycle where they are never able to get the roads they are responsible for up to a reasonable standard. We appeal to the Transport Secretary and the Treasury to take a fresh look at roads funding given the data we are publishing today."


balloon    on 19 April 2021

Salem up the boy at the back!! In my experience, the relevant authorities need to manage the contracts that they let for road repairs for quality, durability of work carried out - retention?, competence of those carrying out the work. I have significant personal experience of repairs that could NEVER pass a value for money test.
As the BMW main agent said of my proposed new purchase - “you would be ill advised to buy this spec. Not with these alloys, it will cost you a fortune in replacements that you will need on these roads and the shoddy maintenance/repairs.
Local authorities - own the problem and divert your energies from excuses as to why these craters do not justify repair - depth, size etc;

GTD 184    on 19 April 2021

It is questionable as to why our cars have to pass a yearly test to be deemed safe and fit to drive on the roads, but the roads are NOT safe or fit for our cars to travel on!

Plodding Along    on 19 April 2021

Let's face it, we live in a country where the govt just doesn't care a stuff about things like maintaining roads, an adequately staffed NHS, ETC ETC ETC. No surprise at all...

   on 19 April 2021

Its interesting that a busy road near me was completely resurfaced in June 2015 but the "new" surface has since completely broken up in many places and has itself had to be repaired in large sections. Surely a new road surface should last longer than 5 and a half years? Perhaps the quality of any resurfacing work also needs to be looked at to make repairs last longer.

Derek Holme    on 19 April 2021

As an experienced driver having undertaken police driving instruction and employed in the Fire Brigade as a fire fighter , our duties included high speed driving in all conditions and on all types of road surface, forward planning is an essential part of our skills, now retired I still pride myself as being an above average driver, my conclusions of our road situation is we spend more time trying to avoid potholes than checking speed and other road users, this is a dangerous situation in a vehicle with four or more wheels, a two wheeled vehicle, cycle or motorcycle is even more dangerous, time and money is needed to resurface these abismul excuses for roads and quickly before the carnage is out of control.

Jean Kirby    on 20 April 2021

I used to think Liverpool roads were the worst, but now it MUST be West Lancashire.
The W Lancs Council send out men to stuff some tarmac into the worst holes and rural roads are AWFUL.

JULIE D ARNOLD    on 20 April 2021

I make several complaints/reports on 'Fix My Street' every month - nearly all to no avail! I understand that Councils have limited budgets but why can they afford to tidy up areas and plant pretty flowers when they cant afford potentially life saving repairs? And as many others comment - do it right first time!

The comment by Mr Holme about looking out for potholes and missing other issues was shown this morning when I saw a large pothole just before a pedestrian crossing - potentially a driver would look at this, swerve to avoid and miss the fact the lights had turned red on the crossing!

   on 20 April 2021

I spent many years carry out assessment on the road network. Granted vehicle use has increased immeasurably but road funding has not kep pace. The road infrastructure at an all time low and will continue to deteriorate unless a national policy is implemented. Don't hold your breath any time soon though.

NickNike    on 20 April 2021

This is due to the 'desperate state' of the UK, not just the roads. Westminster is not fit for purpose, and consequentially, it'll all get worse, and not just the roads.

Bob Bax    on 20 April 2021

My view is that many County Councils are indeed limiting the availability of funds to repair pot holes because of overall pressure on County Council Budgets.

However from a road users point of view, the use of Section 58 of the 1980 Highways Act, as a defence against paying out for damage to road users vehicles, requires urgent review.

I have identified data that suggests that County Councils are refusing to fund legitimate claims for vehicle damage because of section 58 (1980 Highways Act) in order to effectively fund the repair of potholes.

hissingsid    on 24 April 2021

This situation can be traced back to events 100 years ago.

Under the Roads Act 1920 the proceeds of vehicle excise duties were dedicated to the building and maintenance of the road system. The Road Fund returned a surplus each year, and it was not long before the government began diverting some of the proceeds for other purposes.

Successive governments continue to spend less money on the roads whilst increasing the taxation of road users. This is unlikely to change, as vociferous minority interests want to get us out of our cars and onto public transport.

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