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Pothole Perils

 Published 26th June 2024
Driver Guides  General Guides 

Forget I-Spy, 20 questions, or that old number plate game of trying to complete the alphabet as you drive along. According to road safety organisation, GEM, there’s a new game in town which we are going to call “Spot-holing”. It’s a bit like potholing, except rather than finding a big hole in the ground and exploring it, GEM’s version involves finding big holes in the road and avoiding them.

With cash-strapped councils facing an estimated £14 billion backlog of repairs, and many motorists suffering expensive repair bills for pothole damage, GEM Motoring Assist is warning drivers to be on the look-out for dangerous potholes on their journeys.

According to GEM, potholes have a significant financial impact on motorists, who usually end up bearing the cost of repairing damage to wheels, tyres, suspension, and paintwork caused by hitting one of those yawning chasms that passes for a road surface these days. Figures compiled by the AA reveal that pothole damage hit a five-year high in 2023, with motorists having to fork out around £470 million pounds to repair damage caused by poor road maintenance.

It's a double-whammy for UK motorists when you consider the fact we already pay for road maintenance through our taxes. It may not necessarily qualify as one of those “stealth taxes” we keep hearing about, but when you pay your tax and still end up facing expensive repair bills it definitely feels like motorists are being taken for a particularly bumpy ride sometimes.

The body responsible for controlling the road – be it Highways Agency or local Council – has a legal duty to maintain it to a standard that is fit for purpose. If the authority responsible for maintaining the road failed to do so properly, you would be well within your rights to claim for repairs in full. The keyword there is “properly”. Potholes are inevitable, especially in winter, so it doesn’t mean you can claim for every pothole you see. But, if the controlling authority was negligent and didn't do the checks it should have, claiming for repairs can put pressure on the powers that be to keep the road safe and in good condition.

The latest Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance report suggests 18% of local roads (37,000 miles) are judged to be in poor condition and risk becoming undriveable within the next five years. A further 100,000 miles of local road would need to be rebuilt in the next 15 years.

So, in theory, if your lease car is damaged by a pothole you should be able to claim compensation from the authority responsible. Of course, that’s just the theory because when it comes to practical reality it’s hard to know where you stand, especially as sweeping cuts to council budgets have led to compensation falling by more than a half, with potholes across the country remaining unrepaired for months at a time.

GEM road safety adviser James Luckhurst said:

“We want to help drivers stay safe on their road journeys, as well as reducing the risk of causing expensive damage to their cars. There is no consistent national policy among councils as to where or not they will compensate drivers for damage caused by potholes. Those drivers who can’t afford to pay for their repairs risk making journeys in vehicles that are potentially unsafe.”

With this in mind, GEM is offering advice that will not only help to keep drivers safe on their journeys but will also assist them in dealing with the consequences of pothole damage:

Stay safe on the road

  1. Always be aware of dangerous potholes on your regular journeys.

  2. Remember to keep your distance from the car in front. Motorists will often brake or swerve suddenly if they have spotted a pothole too late, so ensure you are far enough away to slow down safely.

  3. Make sure you stick to the speed limit, and slow down on smaller roads and residential streets where potholes may be prevalent. Hitting a pothole at speed will cause much more damage to your vehicle.

  4. Never swerve to avoid a pothole; always slow down or stop completely if necessary, checking that there are no cars close behind you. Drive over the pothole slowly or steer round it if it’s safe to do so.

Get something done

  1. Help your local authority and report any dangerous potholes that are causing problems in the area.

  2. Your local council website will guide you to the right procedure for reporting a pothole.

  3. Cycling UK’s Fill that Hole website is a national portal available for anyone to report pothole damage.

  4. Main roads are the responsibility of national agencies such as National Highways. Go to or call them on 0300 123 5000. This number is available 24 hours a day.

Build a case

  1. If you believe you have a valid claim for pothole damage, make sure you are able to give the exact location of the offending pothole.

  2. Note when you went through it, what direction you were travelling and approximately how wide and deep you believe it to have been.

  3. If it’s safe, stop and examine the pothole. Take photographs if you can, but don’t put yourself or anyone else at risk in the process.

  4. Obtain quotes for any repairs that may be required. Keep copies of these, along with receipts and invoices, if they form part of your claim. Then write to the local authority, including all the details and requesting a settlement of your claim.

  5. Expect a rejection, as the local authority will most likely explain that it has a system of regular inspection and repair. You can check what the council may be liable for and to make sure they are carrying out the system they claim to have.

  6. If you feel your case is strong enough, it may be worth getting legal advice or taking your case to the small claims court. However, be aware that it could end up being a lengthy and costly process.

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