Potholes are a major problem in the UK
1 in 3 drivers in the UK report that their car, van or motorcycle has been damaged by potholes. The research (AA-Populus Driver Poll of more than 17,000 members, Dec 2016) found that this included damage to tyres and bodywork, and even led to crashes. In fact, in 2023, the pothole situation is now at its worst for five years.
When your car's damaged by a pothole it can be a real pain, leaving you spending time and money on repairs or chasing claims for damage. Unfortunately, potholes can’t be prevented, they’re caused by changes in temperature and water in cracks of the road surface.
Our survey found that only 1 in 5 people report potholes. Reporting them can help them get fixed more quickly. If the council doesn't know about it, they won't know it needs to be repaired. Find out more about what constitutes a ‘pothole’ and how to report a dangerous pothole on this page.
What is the legal definition of a pothole?
In legal terms, a pothole is a depression in a road surface caused by traffic or surface deterioration.* To add to this, we define potholes as having a minimum depth of 5 centimetres (2 inches) and a minimum width of 15 centimetres (6 inches).
How to report potholes
It’s the duty of your local council to fix potholes on neighbourhood roads. Here's how to go about reporting one to the council:
- Make a note of the specific location of the pothole, i.e. not just the name of the road, but how far up it is based on a house number, or a nearby landmark.
- Find contact details for your local council. You can go straight to their website, or pop the relevant postcode into the government’s ‘Report a Pothole’ page.
- Add the details. Some councils have interactive maps, where you can drop a pin to locate the pothole. Others have a contact form asking for more details.
There are also independent websites that create user-generated maps of potholes. So, if you’re feeling generous, you might want to give your fellow drivers a heads-up. They may not always be up-to-date though, so you shouldn't rely on them in place of official channels.
If you've already experienced damage to your car, you can claim from your council for pothole damage.
You’ll need to collect evidence to apply for compensation. The defect in the road also needs to be a certain size to count as a pothole. This varies from council to council, but a depth of more than 40mm (about the size of two pound coins) and a width similar to a dinner plate, is usually the minimum.
It also depends on how busy or critical the road is - a pothole on a quiet road might need to be quite noticeable, before it gets repaired. If you feel the council have neglected their duty to keep roads safe, you have the right to make a pothole claim.
Are councils responsible for potholes?
Yes, local councils do have a responsibility to fix large potholes if they know about them. They can’t automatically know when a new pothole forms though, so it’s always best to report them if you see them.
Is there an app for reporting potholes?
There is no official app for reporting potholes, so it’s best to use the official route and report dangerous potholes via the government website (linked to above on this page).
How to find out if a pothole has been reported
If you want to check if a pothole has been reported by somebody else already, most council websites will have a feature that allows you to do this. You’ll usually be referred to your local council’s website when you start reporting a pothole on the government website. In most cases, all you have to do is enter the postcode for the pothole location and see if it falls under potholes already reported in the area.
Potholes by the numbers
An AA populus survey from 2017 also revealed some eye-opening statistics about how much damage is caused by potholes and how people feel about them being fixed:
- Overall 32% of drivers have experienced vehicle damage caused by potholes in the last two years.
- Damage is most likely in Scotland where 37% report damage and least likely in Northern Ireland (24%).
- Older drivers seem to be the best at avoiding potholes with only 25% of over-65s reporting vehicle damage. The rate is almost twice as high (42%) among the youngest (18-24 year old) drivers.
- 51% of people surveyed have seen bad potholes locally, but not reported them.
- 40% would report a pothole if they knew how to do it.
- In another survey, when asked if they would volunteer to fill potholes themselves - 20% of people said they would if it was allowed by the local council. (AA/Populus survey of 20,055 members, Feb 2017)
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Why are there so many potholes in the UK?
While some might think that the number of potholes in UK roads is reflective of poor maintenance or effort on the part of local councils, the real reason may actually lie in our climate. In the winter months, we often get cold and wet weather, leading to road damage. Water often drains into small cracks in the road and then freezes, causing further cracking and expansion. The frozen-over water thaws out in the warmer months and the cycle repeats again.
How do you fill a pothole?
There are 2 different methods for repairing a pothole – cold patch repair and hot asphalt repair.
Cold patch repair involves using a pre-mixed type of asphalt to fill in a pothole. The mix is then packed tightly and left alone. This is usually only worth doing for home property/driveways as it’s not really a long-term solution. Cold patch pothole repairs often open up again given time.
The alternative (and superior) method of hot asphalt repair involves excavating the area of the pothole before filling it with hot asphalt. This is a long-term solution for potholes as it deals with the underlying problem.
How do I report a pothole on a motorway?
Staying safe on roads with pothole damage
You shouldn't have to change your driving too much if you're on a road that has potholes.
Keep your distance from cars in front, in case they swerve or brake suddenly due to a pothole. This also gives you a clear view of the road surface ahead.
If you see a pothole ahead slow down and steer to avoid driving over it if you can. It's best not to swerve suddenly or brake sharply to dodge a pothole as you could find yourself causing a bigger accident.
Potholes can be even more dangerous for cyclists, who can suffer serious and even deadly injuries. Expect cyclists to steer around potholes and to ride well out from the kerb where potholes are numerous.
Damage caused by holes in the road won't necessarily cause your car to break down. But, for peace of mind, we offer comprehensive breakdown cover. You can also read more about what steps to take if your car does break down.
How to report bad road conditions
You can report various road surface problems by following the advice above on this page – usually by visiting your local council website. They typically have a report function that allows you to report any kind of road damage, rather than just potholes.
How to report a pothole and claim for damage
You can claim for pothole damage to your vehicle by writing to your local council. You’ll need to include certain details in your claim, including copies of quotes for repair costs to your vehicle, as well as invoices and receipts. For more guidance and info, visit our page on how to claim for pothole damage.
Report a pothole NI
You can report a pothole or any kind of road surface defect in Northern Ireland by selecting a location on a map in the NI government website.
Published: 18 October 2017 | Updated: 27 October 2023 | Author: The AA