Report on Motoring 2016

Ongoing problems with local roads

3.1 Ongoing problems with local roads

The condition and maintenance of local roads is the top concern among the largest percentage of motorists once again in 2016. Of those questioned, 14% say this is their number-one concern, up from 10% last year.

Almost four in 10 drivers (38%) say the state of local roads is one of their top four concerns this year: this also represents a sharp increase on last year (30%).

Just over half of drivers (51% compared with 50% in 2015) say the condition of the roads in their area has deteriorated over the past 12 months, overwhelmingly as a result of potholes (cited by 97% of respondents). However, roadside litter (25%) and poor grass and/or foliage maintenance (20%) are also named by many as problems.

Only 9% of motorists think that local roads have improved since 2015 – this represents a very small drop from last year’s 10% who thought the condition of local roads had improved over the previous 12 months. In terms of demographics, older drivers and those in rural locations are more likely to think that the condition of roads has deteriorated.

By way of contrast, a majority of motorists (61%) think that the condition of the motorways and dual carriageways they use has not changed over the past 12 months (up from 58% in 2015). And only 7% think they have improved against 9% who took this view last year, perhaps indicating it is still too early for motorists to see the benefits of the Road Investment Strategy in terms of the condition of the existing network.

Condition of motorways and local roads

51% say the condition of the local roads has deteriorated over the past 12 months

61% think the condition of motorways and dual carriageways has stayed the same since 2015

9% of motorists think that local roads have actually improved since 2015

97% of those who said that the condition of local roads is worse, said it's due to potholes and poor road surface

14% say the condition and maintenance of local roads is their top concern

Of the 28% who think the state of major roads has declined, 83% cite surface quality, including potholes, as one of the problems they face, although litter (28%), lane-marking visibility (24%) and carriageway lighting (15%) are also issues.

Concern about the state of local roads has grown despite some attempt by the Government to increase expenditure on local road infrastructure. Ministers have promised to pump £6bn into local road maintenance between 2015 and 202117 while in the March 2016 Budget, the Government announced the creation of a £50m-a-year Pothole Action Fund to target the roads in greatest need of repair18.

This follows analysis from the Department for Transport which found that there was a backlog of up to £8.6bn in spending on local road maintenance19.

However, the latest independent findings from the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) suggest the true picture may be even more gloomy. The organisation’s Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) report published in March 201620 found that, despite the commitment to extra state funding, local authority highways departments in England claimed that funding has dropped by 16% on average since last year. The report also said that the amount of investment needed to bring roads in England and Wales up to an acceptable level had remained just below £12 billion.

The lower support for the Government to prioritise investment in the maintenance of motorways and other major roads may simply reflect the fact that it’s the condition of local roads that worries respondents, because they have deteriorated at such a rapid pace.

- Steve Gooding, Director, RAC Foundation

RAC Pothole Index

The RAC has used its database of over 2 million breakdowns attended each year to develop the RAC Pothole Index as an ongoing monitor of the state of the UK’s roads. The index uses the share of all breakdowns where damage from potholes, such as damaged shock absorbers, broken suspension springs and distorted wheels, is likely to have been a major contributor.

The share is averaged over the previous 12 months to remove seasonal effects and a correction is applied to take account of the overall improvement in vehicle reliability over time.

The index uses the share at the start of 2006 as a benchmark and the value of the index is therefore a measure of how likely a motorist’s vehicle is to suffer pothole damage compared to the start of 2006. Thus an index of 1.2 would mean the likelihood of pothole damage had increased by 20%.

The index shows that there was a steady deterioration in the condition of roads between 2005 and 2010 as highways authorities’ budgets were tightened and many cut back on preventative maintenance. There have been several extreme weather events over the last six years and the Government has provided additional funding to address the pothole damage that resulted.

However, the index shows that while this funding has addressed the immediate effects of the bad weather, it has been insufficient to tackle the underlying deterioration that occurred prior to 2010. Going forward, the RAC will publish the index quarterly.

Motorists wanting to report a pothole should visit the RAC website or download the free RAC Report Pothole mobile app for their iPhone or Android smartphone.