Findings from 2022's comprehensive study of UK drivers' views

The state of our roads

Introduction


The poor condition of the UK’s roads, in particular local roads, has become an increasingly widespread problem for drivers over recent years, the RAC Report on Motoring has found. Concern about the state of local roads was just 30% in 2015, but this rose to become the nation’s top motoring concern – peaking at 46% in 2021 – before dipping slightly to 45% this year. Concern is most pronounced among the over-65s.

Local road conditions


Given the sharp rise in concern about fuel prices this year, the fact that local road maintenance remains such a prominent issue is a reflection of how deep-seated this problem has become.

This assertion is supported by figures which show that only 4% of drivers think the state of the local roads in their area has improved in the past 12 months, down from 6% a year ago. Meanwhile, 60% say conditions are worse, up from 58% in 2021.

Issues with road surface quality are the main reason drivers say conditions have deteriorated (98%). But potholes and the like are no longer the only problem: 63% say they have noticed faded road markings, up from 56% last year, while 42% report worsened signage visibility and 35% complain about the amount of litter by the roadside. Lack of grass and foliage maintenance is another problem, cited by 30% of drivers.

RAC Breakdown data supports drivers’ views on local road conditions: RAC patrols attended more than 10,000 pothole-related breakdowns in 2021, the highest total since 2018. Meanwhile, the RAC Pothole Index, which analyses pothole-related breakdowns together with the seasonal effects of the weather to give a true long-term indication of the condition of the UK’s roads, now stands at 1.63, up from 1.48 at the end of September 2021. This means that drivers are over one-and-a-half times more likely to break down after hitting a pothole today than when the RAC began collecting this data in 2006.

In addition, 86% of drivers say they have to steer to avoid potholes on several occasions. This rises to 90% among those who live in rural locations and falls to 81% for those in urban areas.

The 2022 edition of the annual survey carried out by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) once again indicates that local authorities in England and Wales do not have the funding to keep roads in a reasonable condition. The AIA’s current Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) report states that despite a 4% increase in average highway maintenance budgets, councils are investing less money in carriageway repairs. As such, the reported backlog of repairs has increased by almost 25% to over £12 billion: according to the AIA’s estimates, this will take more than a decade to complete.

Repairs and taxation


This year, we looked at driver views on whether they felt repairs to local roads were completed to an adequate standard. The findings show that even when authorities are managing to repair local road surfaces, drivers are generally unhappy with the quality of the work: 55% rate the standard of pothole repairs in their area as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’. Dissatisfaction is higher in older age groups: 60% of those aged between 45 and 64 say repairs are poor, as do 57% of those aged 65 and older.

It is encouraging, therefore, that the Government plans to introduce new measures designed to penalise utilities and construction companies which leave road surfaces in sub-standard condition after completing street works. Firms which fail to meet strict criteria for the quality of their repair work will face more rigorous inspections and, ultimately, severe financial penalties.

Drivers support the idea of a proportion of current motoring taxation being ringfenced in order to fund local road maintenance: 80% say they would back such a plan. But there has been a decline in the number of drivers who say they would be willing to pay a higher level of fuel duty provided this money was ringfenced for a local pothole fund. Only 28% support such a proposal in 2022, down from 43% in 2021 and 47% the previous year. No doubt the recent increases in the cost of fuel, not to mention the wider economic outlook, have influenced drivers’ feelings in this area. However, the RAC continues to believe the local road network needs some form of ringfenced funding to allow councils to properly and regularly maintain their roads.

Motorways and other high-speed roads


There is greater satisfaction with the state of the UK’s motorways and high-speed roads than with local roads. However, conditions on major roads show little sign of improving according to drivers: a third (33%) say that the condition of motorways and high-speed roads has deteriorated in the past 12 months, compared with 28% in 2021, and only 4% of drivers think conditions are better now than a year ago.

Of those drivers who say major road conditions have worsened, 80% cite the quality of the road surface, although this is down from the 88% recorded in 2021. As is the case with local roads, faded or worn line markings are a serious issue (48%), as is roadside litter  (38%), signage visibility (30%) and a lack of grass and foliage maintenance (22%). Some 22% complain of missing or unreflective cat’s eyes.

Finally, 53% of drivers say they approve of the current government policy that means money collected from vehicle excise duty (VED or car tax) is allocated to fund motorways and the wider high-speed network.

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