Drivers Fall Foul of Cracks in Road Maintenance

Large-scale and sustained investment required says AA

Potholes, missing road markings, signs hidden in bushes and drains that are blocked even before it rains are the indicators of an inability to do any more than shore up the cracks of an ailing road maintenance programme, says the AA. Even with the injection of extra government money in recent years, the UK's road condition can only get worse without further large-scale and sustained investment.

Last month, a survey of county highway engineers showed that local authorities in England and Wales are paying out as much on claims for damage to vehicles as they are spending filling in potholes.

However, the AA can reveal that signing, road marking, drainage and other defects – not covered in Thursday's (10 May 2007) National Road Maintenance Condition Survey – are not only placing motorists lives at risk but also laying drivers open to prosecution through no fault of their own. The following paragraphs describe some of the examples.

30mph sign hidden by hedgerows

In 2005, 30mph signs hidden in overgrown hedgerows near Wilmslow, Cheshire, landed a driver with a prosecution for speeding. He spent a year challenging the allegation, and in 2006 the local authority painted a 30mph sign on the road. The road signs remained largely hidden in the hedges.

30mph limit sign obscured by overgrown hedgerows30mph limit sign painted on a road

Worn road markings

In 2005, an American tourist drove through a village in southern England and over crossroads he could never have spotted because the road markings had been worn away to nothing. He hit and severely damaged a car travelling across his front, on the main road he should have given way to. Police considered charging him for driving without due care and attention. Some months later, 'Give Way' road markings and a road sign were reinstated at the junction.

cross roads with worn markingscrossroads with road sign and give-way markings

Blocked drains

Blocked drains not only create flooded roads but leave drivers open to fines if they splash pedestrians. In July 2005, the Department of Transport published 'Well Maintained Highways – Code of Practice for Highway Maintenance: Roads'. On drains, it advised: "In general, inspection of drainage has proved problematic to authorities for a variety of reasons including inaccurate records of drainage locations, uncertainty of ownership and lack of resources. In order to mitigate some of these problems, authorities should adopt a risk-based approach." In other words, unless it's a priority, the pond that appears in your road when it rains could be there for a very long time.

image of a blocked drain

National Road Maintenance Condition Survey reports consistently fail to track back results to before the 1990s, hiding the fact that road condition at the end of the 1970s was 15 to 20% better than it is now.

"There can be no glossing over the underlying decay of UK's roads. Their condition has improved in recent years but never to the level seen in 1977," says Paul Watters, head of roads and transport policy for AA Public Affairs.

"Part of that is down to the 'patch-and-mend' approach to filling in potholes. Yes, they get filled in quickly, but if the road surface is never properly repaired they come back again and again."

Notes to editors

If you would like high resolution images to support this story please contact AA Public Affairs on 01256 493493

The survey referred to in paragraph 2 above was the Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) Survey 2007, conducted by the Asphalt Industry Alliance.


9 May 2007