Radio talk show hosts joke that if you ever want to get more calls from the public then turn the topic to potholes – but for riders they’re more than just an inconvenience: they risk lives. So, the news that the AA has joined forces with the National Motorcyclists Council, British Cycling, IAM Roadsmart, the British Motorcyclists Federation and even digger maker JCB to call for action to permanently solve the pothole problem is welcome and will apply substantial pressure on the Government to address a problem that impacts huge numbers of voters in a vital election year.
Today (Monday 15th January) is National Pothole Day. Not an occasion that’s marked with parades or celebrations, but one that’s used to raise awareness around potholes and the dangers they pose. So, it’s fitting that it’s the date chosen to launch the new Pothole Partnership, and for the AA to release its latest figures on the subject, showing that its patrols have had to deal with 631,852 pothole-related incidents of wheel, tyre, or suspension damage in 2023 alone, the highest number in five years.
And, of course, those are just the AA members who’ve been impacted – extrapolate that figure to include road users who won’t have called out the AA, and the number of pothole-damaged vehicles during 2023 reaches around two million. The organisation’s calculations show that the damage caused to vehicles by potholes during that 12-month period added up to £474 million. Whether those bills are paid by the vehicle owners, their insurers or by taxpayers when successful claims are made against authorities, it’s money that comes out of all of our pockets and does nothing to improve the roads.
But for motorcyclists and cyclists, the damage can be more than merely financial. AA research in 2018 showed that, during the previous year, there were 545 vehicles involved in injury accidents where road surfaces were a contributor to the crash, and 45 percent of them were motorcyclists or cyclists – a vast number given the relatively small proportion of road users that we account for.
What’s behind the pothole plague? A lack of budget for road maintenance is clearly a problem, with figures from the Local Government Association showing that the amount spent on non-motorway roads halved between 2006 and 2023.
Although the Government has announced that £8.3 billion of funding – redirected from the cancelled Northern section of HS2 – is being redirected into road repairs over the next 11 years, it starts with a relatively paltry £150 million going to local highway authorities in the 2023/24 financial year and another £150 million in 24/25.
The new Pothole Partnership is calling for the promised £8.3 billion to be ringfenced, ensuring it doesn’t get syphoned off for other projects, and for the spending to be front-loaded, with more investment in the early years of the 11-year plan. It also wants to limit the common practice of temporary pothole patches, instead using permanent repairs, and calls for UK-wide repair and inspection standards that authorities must meet.
The Partnership has issued this five-point plan that it believes will bring an end to the pothole problem:
Commenting on the Pothole Partnership, Executive Director of the National Motorcyclists Council, Craig Carey-Clinch, said: “The situation is becoming ever more acute for motorcyclists and the issue is a top-ranking concern among riders. Potholes and other road surface related defects are already shown to be extremely dangerous for motorcycle riders. The same pothole that damages a car, could prove fatal to a rider. The pothole hazard is heightened if potholes fill with water in poor weather, or they are encountered at night. Action is needed now to urgently clear the backlog of repairs. The NMC fully supports the Pothole Partnership and urges the Government to front load the £8.3billion that has been announced. The problem is now, not in seven- or nine-years-time.”
IAM RoadSmart Director of Policy and Standards Nicholas Lyes said: “Potholes are a huge road safety hazard and are especially dangerous to those on two wheels who are at risk of coming off their motorcycle or bicycle if they hit one. Additionally, drivers and riders alike tell us they are swerving to avoid surface defects which is a risky manoeuvre in its own right.”
AA President Edmund King added: “Last year AA patrols dealt with more than 600,000 pothole-related incidents which on a national scale will have cost drivers almost half a billion pounds. Currently, we often have a vicious circle of: pothole formed; damage caused; pothole patched; pothole reappears with more damage caused - when what we need are more permanent repairs. Potholes are the number one concern for 96% of drivers and can be fatal for those on two wheels so hopefully pressure from the Pothole Partnership will lead to permanent repairs.”
While cycling lobbies might often be at loggerheads with motorists’ groups, they come together when it comes to potholes. Caroline Julian, External Affairs Director of British Cycling, said: “We know from our members that potholes are a longstanding frustration and concern. They have tragic and fatal consequences that cannot be ignored. If we’re serious about fulfilling our ambitions to get more people cycling, we simply must ensure that our roads are safe and comfortable for them to ride on, and not the crater-filled carriageways they currently face.”
As for JCB’s role in the Pothole Partnership, the company might be well positioned to benefit from increased spending on road repairs but it’s also one with expertise on the machinery needed to achieve them. General Manager Ben Rawding said: “As we mark National Pothole Day, JCB is delighted to be part of the Pothole Partnership, a group committed to fixing Britain’s roads. Tackling the national backlog of potholes properly will involve investment in innovation and new technologies to ensure permanent fixes, not temporary repairs. Britain’s motorists, motorcyclists and cyclists deserve nothing less.”
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