Roads on 'borrowed time' as maintenance budgets cut

12 January 2011

The harsh winter is already bringing out a nasty rash of potholes on Britain's crumbling roads which are set to wreak havoc on cars and lead to a corresponding rash of insurance claims.

The AA has already said that many roads are on borrowed time with a combination of potholes, snow and heavy rain producing the 'worst imaginable driving conditions'.

Potholes develop after water seeping beneath the road surface freezes, loosening the asphalt. Passing traffic, a thaw and rain does the rest. Worn out roads; old repairs and around ironwork are the most likely places for potholes to develop.

Simon Douglas, director of AA Insurance says: "Our claims staff are bracing themselves for a steep rise in reports of cars damaged by potholes.

"Last winter there were three times as many claims between January and March compared with the same period in 2009.

"We expect the pothole problem to be significantly worse this year because of three successive bad winters and the growing backlog of road renewal".

Claims costs

The average insurance claim for pothole damage to cars is just over £1,300*. The most costly AA claim last year topped £14,000, where the driver lost control and crashed after hitting a pothole.

Total cost to the private car insurance industry for pothole damage over the first three months of 2010 is estimated to be over £10.5m.

Budget cuts

Cuts in road maintenance budgets of 20% mean that local authorities face very difficult choices on the roads they prioritise for repair. Whilst they may fix the dangerous potholes many are likely to go unrepaired.


Keep a sharp eye out for potholes and keep speed down, particularly on secondary roads, remembering that in wet weather deep potholes may be obscured by water.

Hitting a deep pothole can cause severe damage and increases the risk of losing control and hitting other vehicles or objects.

Even at low speeds damage to tyres, especially low-profile tyres, wheels and tracking is likely but the cost of repair doesn't necessarily justify an insurance claim.

When safe to do so, stop and check your wheels and tyres after hitting a pothole.

Pay attention to any unusual steering or other driving characteristics – if necessary get the vehicle checked at a garage or tyre specialist.

Damage to tyre walls may not be immediately obvious and could result in a later blow-out while damaged tracking will lead to excessive wear to tyres and compromise cornering and braking.

It may be possible to claim for damage from the highway authority if a known pothole remains unrepaired.

Keep all receipts from damage repair to support any subsequent claim

Report it

It's important to report potholes to the relevant authority which may be county or local councils or for motorways, the Highways Agency. Local authority websites will have guidance on pothole reporting and many also list known pothole sites.

Make a note of where the pothole is, its approximate size and depth, and take a picture with your mobile phone if safe to do so.

* AA Insurance statistics. Over the first three months of 2010 there were 230 claims for pothole damage at an average claim cost of just over £1,300 (compared with 97 claims the previous year). Nationally this is the equivalent of over 8,000 insurance claims to private cars costing £10.54m.