RAC Pothole Index – statistics and data for UK roads

RAC Pothole Index – statistics and data for UK roads
The poor condition of Britain’s local roads has led to the RAC dealing with the highest number of pothole-related breakdowns it has seen in any third quarter since it began recording this data in 2006, according to the latest data for potholes. 

The UK is thought to have more than one million potholes, with these road defects being one of the leading causes of car breakdowns. Currently, the Government has a pot of £5 billion to tackle the problem up until 2025. But what is the current state of our roads? Find out with the RAC Pothole Index. 

How many potholes are there in the UK?

Each year the RAC estimates drivers have to battle against at least one million potholes on the country’s roads, but the actual number will vary from season to season.

It is estimated that, on average, there are around six potholes per mile on council-controlled roads in England and Wales.

In 2023, data obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request provided a glimpse into the scale of the UK's pothole problem.

The FOI was sent to all of England's 185 county and district councils, but only 81 provided a response. From those that provided data, there were a reported 556,658 potholes in England in the financial year of 2021/22- a figure that would be far higher if all 185 county and district councils had fulfilled the FOI request.

It's important to note that the FOI request did not including road defects within Wales, Scotland and Northen Ireland - this means the true number of potholes in the UK is likely to be two or three times higher than the 556,658 that was reported.

What's more, between 2022 and 2023, 1.4 million potholes were filled in England and Wales - down from 1.7 million the year before.

(Sources: Liberal Democrats, GOV.UK, Asphalt Industry Alliance)

Current state of UK’s pothole problem in data and statistics

Figures from the RAC Report on Motoring 2023 show that the condition and maintenance of local roads - those which local authorities are responsible for - is driver's top concern, with more drivers worried about it than the cost of fuel.

The poor condition of Britain’s local roads is also laid bare by figures from the RAC which show its patrols went out to more than 8,100 pothole breakdowns between April and June 2023, the highest number in five years.

RAC patrols went to the rescue of 5,978 drivers from July to September for damaged shock absorbers, broken suspension springs or distorted wheels – the call-outs which are most likely to be caused by wear and tear from defective road surfaces. This was 580 more than the previous third-quarter high of 5,398 recorded in 2013. It was also 1,893 more than the same period in 2022 when there were 4,085 – meaning this year has seen a 46% increase.

July to September, however, is not the worst quarter of the year for pothole breakdowns – that dubious honour goes to the colder months of January to March. The first quarter of 2021 still holds the record for the RAC’s highest number of pothole call-outs in a quarter, with a shocking 14,827 drivers breaking down for that reason.

The July to September 2023 findings have also led to an increase in the RAC Pothole Index, which tracks the probability of drivers suffering a pothole-related breakdown since 2006. The index has now increased to 1.7 which means motorists are nearly twice as likely to break down due to the repeated wear caused by potholes than they were 17 years ago.

RAC head of policy Simon Williams said: “Our analysis of pothole-related breakdowns is sadly once again showing that the sub-standard state of the country’s local roads is causing a world of pain for drivers, let alone those on two wheels.

“Fortunately, the Government has promised £8.3bn for local highways authorities over a five-year period which should give them the certainty of funding they need to be able to plan longer term road maintenance work. We very much look forward to finding out exactly how the money will be allocated.

“We have long argued that it’s not just a question of filling potholes, it’s about getting the roads in the worst condition resurfaced. Then, it’s vital that more councils start to make greater use of surface treatments which can cost effectively extend the lives of these roads."

Pothole-related breakdowns – in numbers

To 30 September 2018To 30 September 2019To 30 September 2020To 30 September 2021To 30 September 2022To 30 September 2023

Why are they called potholes?

Historians have established that the term ‘pothole’ comes from the age of the Roman Empire.

Potters who couldn’t afford clay would often steal it from the Roman roads as they were built on top of a heavy layer of clay – causing deep holes in the road surface.

Although the meaning and attribution to its popularity in English vernacular has evolved over time, it has always led back to the description of a crack, imperfection or hole on a road or walkway.

The name ‘pothole’ is used because these road surface depressions often resemble small craters or holes, similar to the shape of a pot or container. However, their shape can vary quite a lot.

What causes potholes?

Potholes typically occur when the road surface deteriorates due to various factors such as temperature changes, water seepage, and repeated traffic impact.

The combination of these factors weakens the road surface, leading to the formation of these depressions or holes.

They can vary in size and depth, ranging from small divots to larger craters that can pose a risk to vehicles and pedestrians. They are a common road maintenance issue and can be found in many parts of the world, not just in the UK.

Potholes are primarily caused by a combination of several factors, including:

  1. Freezing and thaw cycles: In regions with colder climates, water can seep into cracks and pores in the road surface. When this water freezes, it expands, exerting pressure on the surrounding road and causing it to crack. When the ice melts, it leaves behind gaps and voids, weakening the road structure and leading to the formation of potholes. This is a common issue in the UK.
  2. Heavy traffic and vehicle loads: Repeated traffic, especially from heavy vehicles, can accelerate the deterioration of road surfaces. The constant weight and impact of vehicles can weaken the road, causing cracks to form. Over time, these cracks can develop into potholes. Over the last decade, there has been a drastic increase in traffic – and in the size of vehicles people are driving.
  3. Water damage: Water is a major contributor to pothole formation. It can infiltrate the road structure through cracks or poorly sealed joints. The presence of water weakens the underlying layers, causing the road surface to lose its structural integrity and resulting in pothole development.
  4. Age and wear: Over time, road surfaces naturally degrade. The constant exposure to traffic, weather elements, and environmental factors gradually erodes the road materials. As the road becomes more worn and brittle, it is more susceptible to cracking and the eventual formation of potholes. All roads should be updated and kept in working condition – however, this is where a lot of the problems in the UK stem from.
  5. Poor construction or maintenance: Inadequate road construction practices, improper compaction of materials, or insufficient maintenance can contribute to the formation of potholes. If roads are not built to withstand the stresses they encounter or if maintenance activities are neglected, it can accelerate the deterioration process.
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Why does the UK have so many potholes?

The UK’s wet and cold climate makes its roads susceptible to potholes. The UK’s high traffic levels also increase road wear, which means the roads are more likely to become cracked or damaged. Most of the UK’s potholes form in the winter months, with water seeping into the road via small cracks which form a pothole when it freezes and forces the road surface to break up. 

Where are the most potholes in the UK?

Cities and urban areas with heavy traffic tend to experience more wear and tear on their road infrastructure, making them more prone to potholes. Areas with significant urban centres like London, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, and Glasgow may have a higher occurrence of potholes due to the increased traffic density.

Regions that experience severe weather conditions, such as heavy rainfall or freezing temperatures, are more susceptible to the formation of potholes. This is particularly true in areas of the UK that have colder climates, such as Scotland, northern England, and the northern parts of Wales.

Adding to this, roads in rural or less densely populated areas may receive less frequent maintenance and repairs compared to major highways and urban roads. These can often be in the colder areas of the country.

It's important to note that the situation can change over time as road maintenance efforts and infrastructure investments are made. Local authorities and highway agencies are instructed by the Government to address potholes and improve road conditions across the UK.

However, the data requested through the FOI showed the councils that are the worst impacted by potholes.

Derbyshire had the most potholes per region, with 90,596 – followed by Lancashire (67,439) and Northumberland (51,703).

The area with the longest average time to fix individual holes was Stoke-on-Trent, with a massive 657 days. This was followed by Westminster (556 days) and Norfolk (482 days).

(Source: FOI by the Liberal Democrats)

How much does the Government spend each year on potholes?

From 2020 to 2025, the Government has pledged to invest £5 billion into road and highway maintenance.

Every year, the UK government allocates significant extra funding for addressing potholes and road maintenance.

This is usually announced during the Spring or Autumn Budget by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

However, the specific annual budget dedicated exclusively to pothole repairs may vary each year and is subject to change based on government priorities and budgetary allocations.

In the most recent Spring Budget, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt increased the funding available to deal with the ‘curse of potholes’ each year to £700 million.

Additionally, local authorities receive funding through the various schemes for local road maintenance, including pothole repairs.

It's important to note that these figures and funding initiatives are subject to change with each new budget cycle or government announcement.

How likely are you to breakdown due to a pothole?

The likelihood of a vehicle breaking down due to a pothole depends on various factors, including the severity of the pothole, the speed and angle at which the vehicle hits it, the condition of the vehicle, and the type of road surface.

While smaller potholes may not cause significant damage, larger or deeper potholes can pose a greater risk.

However, hitting many smaller potholes over time can impact your vehicle in a negative way.

Some potential issues that can arise from hitting a pothole include:

  1. Tyre damage: Potholes can cause punctures, sidewall bulges, or tyre blowouts if the impact is severe enough.
  2. Wheel and suspension damage: Hitting a pothole with force can result in bent or cracked wheels, misalignment, or damage to suspension components, such as shocks, struts, or control arms.
  3. Steering system problems: The impact of a pothole can affect the steering system, leading to misalignment, steering wheel vibration, or difficulty in steering.
  4. Exhaust or undercarriage damage: Particularly deep potholes may cause the underside of the vehicle to hit the road surface, resulting in damage to the exhaust system, oil pan, or other components.
  5. Losing control of the vehicle: A cause for many accidents can be attributed to the impact of a driver travelling over a pothole. They are a hazard to all road users.

According to RAC data, it is advisable to exercise caution and try to avoid potholes whenever possible and regular vehicle maintenance can also help identify any issues that may arise from pothole impacts.

If you encounter a pothole while driving, it is recommended to slow down and cautiously navigate around it if it is safe to do so. If you suspect any damage to your vehicle after hitting a pothole, it is advisable to have it inspected by a qualified mechanic to address any potential issues.

You can also report a pothole quickly and easily from the RAC website.

When looking at RAC data, it can be summarised that although pothole-related breakdowns have fallen over the last decade, they have risen since pre-pandemic levels.

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The RAC Guide to the Great British Pothole and Other Road Surface Defects

Potholes are a menace to all road users. They create a totally unnecessary road safety danger as well as costing motorists thousands of pounds in expensive repairs.

Different types of potholes

The Great British Pothole

Classic pothole in the road

Sometimes also referred to as The Classic. Sadly needs no introduction. More common in town centres than pigeons.

Encountered in varying depths and sizes, causing all kinds of damage and dangers. Needs repairing as soon as it becomes dangerous, but would benefit from a ‘permanent fix’ as opposed to the customary ‘patch and dash’.

The Alcatraz

Pothole in the road looking like an island

There’s no escaping this one. A pothole, or cluster of potholes, that are extremely difficult to avoid due to their size, location or number.

The damage one of these could cause to a vehicle may not be criminal, but it surely must come close. And the thought of someone on two wheels hitting one is beyond frightening.

Report a pothole and claim for damage here

The Slalom

Pothole in the road like a slalom

The collective name for a group, or groups, of potholes that have somehow escaped the attention of those that are supposed to carry out regular checks of our roads.

Leaves motorists with little choice but to attempt to steer their way through in their own Winter Olympics-type challenge.

Do not pass ‘Go’, spend £200: head straight to the garage for some new shock absorbers or maybe a new suspension spring or two.

The Sniper


Lurking just out of sight, this one will get you when you least expect it. Of varying depths and widths this is a pothole that is hard to spot which is normally found right in the path of your wheels.

Hitting one of these at speed will cause a sudden jolt that does your wheels and suspension parts no good whatsoever.

Other road surface defects

The Alligator


It might not have teeth yet, but you won’t have to wait long.

These are no longer just found in Florida: sadly a plethora of crazy crack patterns just like an alligator’s skin are there for all to see on Britain’s roads – no need to book a wildlife trip.

What’s more, they tend not to be a priority for fixing … in other words: they’ll fix in it 'in a while crocodile'.

The Canyon

pothole in the road Canyon

Grand it isn’t! When construction joints open up, chasms are created. Water gets in making matters worse until a river runs through it … and wheels fall into it. Bad news for drivers and vehicles, but a complete nightmare for two-wheelers.

The Fade to Grey

Faded road signs

Camouflage is best used by the army and a faded zebra crossing is no longer a black and white issue.

Road markings you can’t read or see are an all-too-common sight, or perhaps that’s not quite the right way of putting it. Whatever the case: they are as much use to road users as the proverbial chocolate teapot.

The Great Beyond

Big pothole

The edge of the road starts to fall away leaving less and less to drive on. And in the words of the REM song of the same name, this can easily lead to cyclists ‘crashing to the ground’. Unfortunately, councils generally have nothing up their sleeves to sort this out unless it poses a real hazard to road users.

The Groundhog

Pothole patch and dash repairs

You don’t have to go to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to find one of these, you can find plenty right here in good old Blighty.

Borne of the ‘patch and dash’ approach to road maintenance this one recurs more often than Bill Murray’s day or a bad case of heartburn.

If only they’d fixed it properly the first time round, there wouldn’t be so ‘many unhappy returns’.

The Harbinger

pothole road cracking

The sign of things to come. General cracking that will soon bring doom and gloom to drivers as water gets into the cracks, freezes and expands, further breaking up the road surface.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, not usually prioritised for urgent repair.

The Iron Maiden

pothole iron covers

You might spot a number of these beasts. They’re cracks or holes that emerge from iron covers or grates in the road surface. Often not prioritised for repair, but try explaining that to a cyclist.

The Little Devil

Utility works repairs

A little ‘difference in level’ might not seem like a big thing, but these tricky customers can be demon-like for unwitting vulnerable road users who encounter them.

They often occur where repairs to the road surface sink after utility works, leaving treacherous edges that can cause loss of vehicle control or send a cyclist tumbling.

The Moonscape

Uneven road

An uneven, out of this world, sunken road surface consisting of humps, bumps and craters. Often the result of poor workmanship or the use of poor materials. Very uncomfortable to drive over and at its worst could give passengers all the effects of whiplash without the crash.

The Patchwork Quilt

Patchwork potholes

Not as visually appealing as something you put on a bed, the road version is a hotchpotch of unpleasantness.

General deterioration and a proliferation of poor repairs makes negotiating one of these a real challenge for driver and car, let alone anyone on two wheels. It’s time to get the big road surfacing machine out.

The Pebbledasher

Loose gravel

You may hear this before you see it. A crumbling road surface beneath your tyres causes bits of asphalt to fly up against the underside of your vehicle, or worse still against its paintwork.

Often found hiding along colder routes at the mercy of the elements, these stretches of road could single-handedly keep bodywork specialists doing overtime for years to come.

The Rumblestiltskin


Unfortunately not a fairy tale, but grim nevertheless. General wear that turns roads into rumble strips designed to stop drivers straying from the carriageway rather than smooth surfaces for driving. Bet you don’t see these in Germany.

The Rutger Howler

Road dip

A long depression in the road surface that is truly depressing. Get your wheels stuck in one of these and you’ll know about it from both the noise and the steering difficulties. Can lead to water ‘ponding’ effects. Pretty … appalling.

The Unwisecrack

Crack in road

Not the least bit funny, but definitely cutting. First appearing as a little crack in an otherwise smooth road surface, it could easily be the sign of something far worse: a landslip where the carriageway literally crumbles away into a rock face.

The Windermere

Water on road

It’s a low point for every motorist when low spots in the road pool water forcing drivers to change course, possibly into danger.

We all love the Lake District, but standing water and roads really don’t mix. Roads should be for driving, not sailing.

How likely are you to have a vehicle breakdown as a result of hitting a pothole?

Recent rises in pothole-related breakdowns