Potholes: advice to motorists

Potholes: advice to motorists
Potholes are an increasing problem on Britain’s roads, causing damage to vehicles and presenting a potential safety hazard.

They are a persistent concern for motorists and although it is up to local councils to deal with them we have compiled all the information available, to make motorists' lives easier, in one easily digestible place. 

Here you can find everything you will need to know about potholes including:

  • Advice on how to drive on roads with potholes
  • How to report a pothole
  • And how to make a claim for damage made by a pothole

How do potholes form?

Potholes are caused when moisture gets into the cracks in the road which expands when it freezes.

The holes get bigger as vehicles drive over them damaging the structure of the road below its surface layer.

Adverse weather conditions and repeated freeze-thaw and wet-dry cycles make the pothole situation much worse.

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However, it’s not just the weather that is to blame for the problem.

The RAC believes the rise in potholes across the UK has stemmed from many cash-strapped councils’ reactive ‘patch and dash’ approach which means rather than resurfacing roads properly, potholes are repaired individually in a hurry, and sometimes in wet weather, leading to them quickly breaking down and reappearing.

Planned preventative road maintenance would, in the longer-term, be a more efficient and cost-effective way of dealing with the issue.

What damage can potholes do to your car?

According to the RAC’s tyre partner, ATS Euromaster, hitting a pothole can cause a number of wheel and tyre problems.

Initial impact on a vehicle can cause buckled wheels, cracks, lumps in the tyre, cracked alloys and it can knock out the tracking and wheel balancing.

Reports have found that a third of all recorded vehicle damage is as a result of potholes.

In more severe cases, it could lead to drivers losing control of their vehicles and being involved in an accident.

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Advice to drivers when encountering potholes

The following tips may help if you are driving on roads with potholes:

  1. Keep your eyes peeled - Protect yourself and your car by keeping an eye out for potholes and watching your speed, particularly in wet weather when deep potholes may be hidden beneath puddles.
  2. Maintain your distance - Leave plenty of distance between your car and the vehicle in front so you can see potholes in advance.
  3. Stay alert - Be aware of other traffic or pedestrians on the road before changing course to avoid a pothole.
  4. Watch your speed - Striking potholes at higher speeds can cause more damage to your vehicle.
  5. Avoid unnecessary braking – Try not to apply your brakes when driving over a pothole. When you brake you tilt the vehicle forward placing more stress on the front suspension.
  6. Drive over potholes with care - If you have to drive over a pothole, allow the wheel to roll freely into the hole.
  7. Hold the steering wheel correctly - Make sure you are holding the steering wheel properly – ‘10 to 2’ hands position – when driving on a road with potholes – failure to do so may mean you lose control of your vehicle.
  8. Recovering lost parts - If your vehicle sustains damage while travelling, such as a lost hubcap, ensure you stop in a safe location before attempting to recover it.
  9. Safety first - If you wish to inspect any damage to your car, ensure that you stop in a safe place.
  10. Get checked out - If you have hit a pothole and suspect your car has sustained damage, we recommend you get the vehicle checked out by your local garage. Ask them to verify if there could be any other issues such as problems with tracking and wheel alignment, tyres or suspension.
  11. Check tyre pressure regularly –checking your tyre pressure regularly to ensure safety as a line of defence against potholes. Recommended tyre pressures can be found in your vehicle's handbook and on the label located inside the driver’s side door frame or doorpost.

How to report a pothole

All councils allow you to report potholes via their websites, but to make it easier for motorists to report problems we have our own Pothole Reporting system which can be used in minutes - Report a Pothole now. Why not report a pothole and see how long it takes to be fixed?

Furthermore, to report a pothole there and then when out on the roads, you can do so using the RAC's report a pothole app.

If you want to find out which council maintains a particular road, you can enter the road name, town or postcode on GOV.uk. If your car is damaged on a private road, you should contact the road owner.

Contacts for motorways and major trunk roads

Highways England - www.highways.gov.uk/about-us/contact-us

Transport Scotland - http://www.transportscotland.gov.uk/road

Welsh Assembly Government - http://wales.gov.uk/contact_us

How to make a claim for compensation from pothole damage

If your car is damaged by a pothole, you may be able to claim compensation.

The chances of being successful in claiming compensation will significantly depend on whether the pothole has already been reported.

Councils have a statutory defence in that they cannot be held liable for a defect they are not aware of - either because it has not been reported to them or it has not been picked up their own system of inspection and maintenance.

If you have fully comprehensive insurance, it might also be possible to make a claim via your insurer for the damage to your vehicle.

Highways England, which is responsible for motorways and major trunk roads in England, gives advice on how to claim for damage sustained by potholes on its website: http://www.highways.gov.uk/our-road-network/land-property-and-compensation/claims-for-damage-caused-by-potholes/.

If your vehicle is damaged due to a pothole, it is important you notify the authorities as soon as possible. The following steps may help:

  1. Take notes – Write down all the key details including: location of the pothole, its size, shape and depth. If it is safe to do so, make a simple sketch of the area showing the position of the pothole including any surrounding features. It is also worth taking a photograph of the offending pothole.
  2. Any witnesses? – Wherever possible, get the details of any witnesses who saw the incident.  This might help your claim.
  3. Get quotes – Make sure you get quotes for all repairs. Keep all quotes, bills and garage receipts safely in one place and make copies of them to support your claim.
  4. Make your claim – Write to the the relevant highways authority responsible for the particular stretch of road with all the information and details you have gathered including a full description of the incident; location; timings; a sketch of the area and any hard copies of photographs of the pothole.
  5. Prepare for rejection – The council or local authority may defend the claim under section 58 of the Highways Act and their right to statutory defence. If they can prove they have a regular inspection and repair system in place, they may be able to reject your claim.
  6. Do your research – before going back to the council to discuss the claim further, review the guidance provided on their website, check what the council is liable for and verify if they are carrying out a reasonable system of inspection and repair. 
  7. Be willing to negotiate – If the council or local authority makes you an offer, you should seriously consider it. You may be able to negotiate; however, according to www.which.co.uk, while you can claim the cost of repairs, you won’t necessarily be compensated for additional travel expenses or the inconvenience caused. 
  8. Consider the Small Claims Court – If your claim is rejected, you may be able to go to the small claims court. However, if you choose to seek legal advice you could end up incurring legal costs
  9. Weigh up the pros and cons – It may not actually be worthwhile making a claim for compensation, if the amount is below a certain level. Before attempting to make a claim, do your research first as it could be a costly, time-consuming process.
  10. Keep calm – Always try to remain calm and professional when dealing with the council or local authority. And keep copies of all the letters and emails you send and receive – if you do go to court, you will have to provide a record of all your correspondence.