Pothole damage related breakdowns jump by 40% in a year, RAC reveals

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Recovery service attended more than 10,000 call-outs in the first three months of this year as UK's crumbling roads claim more victims

The number of drivers having to be rescued after damaging their car in a pothole has jumped by almost 40% in a single year.

Breakdown service the RAC reported the massive jump and revealed that callouts had doubled between the last quarter of 2022 and the first three months of 2023 as drivers felt the full effects of the winter weather on the UK’s roads

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The first three months of the year are traditionally the worst for pothole damage but the latest callout data from the RAC shows a sharp increase compared with 12 months ago as its patrols attended 10,076 pothole-related breakdowns between January and March. That is 2,811 more than in the same period last year, although still down on the almost 15,000 in 2021. 

The motoring groups’ roads spokesman Simon Williams called the situation “scandalous” and said it was impossible to imagine improvements without better funding for local authorities. A recent report from the Asphalt Industry Alliance suggested £14 billion was needed to address the road repair backlog in England and Wales.

The report found that 20% - 37,000 miles - of local authority roads are thought to have less than five years of structural life left and the gap between funding and the cost of repairs has widened by £1.3bn in the last year. 

Williams commented: “The high number of call-outs our patrols have attended in the first three months of the year – and the enormous increase compared to a year ago – is nothing short of scandalous. Drivers are telling us that the UK’s local roads are in a worse state than ever and it’s hard to disagree looking at some of the craters that litter so many of our carriageways.

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“It’s not right that drivers who are struggling to make ends meet are having to fork out for new tyres, wheels, suspension springs and shock absorbers simply because our roads have been allowed to fall into such a dire state of repair.”

Although drivers can try to claim compensation for damage caused by a pothole, Williams warns it is not always easy. He noted: “Councils are not obligated to pay compensation to drivers who have suffered damage to their vehicles after hitting a pothole. They will only consider doing so if the pothole has been picked up in their routine inspections or has been reported by a member of the public. This is why we urge everyone who spots a nasty hole in the road to report it via the RAC website or to the local authority directly.”

According to the RAC’s Pothole Index, which has been tracking pothole call-outs since 2016, drivers are now 1.6 times more likely to break down due to the repeated wear caused by potholes than they were 17 years ago.

Williams added: “It’s impossible to see a way back from where we are without the government finally recognising there’s a problem and coming up with a new way to solve it.

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“A change in funding strategy is massively overdue, not least as the lion’s share of car tax paid to the DVLA by England’s drivers goes to England’s major roads whereas we estimate the budget for local roads is only around a seventh of that – despite the fact there are seven times more miles of minor roads.”

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