/ Motoring

Are you being driven potty by potholes in your area?


A driver recently claimed a pothole the size of a dustbin lid that caused hundreds of pounds worth of damage to his BMW is the most dangerous in Devon. Have you spotted one bigger in your local area?

For me, dodging the potholes leading to my family home in the Vale of Glamorgan is almost part and parcel of knowing home is just around the next bend.

And while the driver in Devon claimed that his dustbin lid-sized pothole was the most dangerous in the county, I reckon some of the larger potholes en route to our village could be contenders for being the most dangerous in the area.

Disillusioned drivers

When I spoke to my stepdad about the state of the local roads, he moaned how much worse they had become and then told me that he felt despondent about going through the process of reporting them to the council.

With each of the four two-mile stretches of lanes leading in out of the village peppered with potholes, he reckoned it would more than likely take him several days to photograph them all.

A fair point, I thought. But I reminded him that if he did nothing and later sustained damage to his car as a result of a pothole, he might struggle to claim.

He gave a resigned sigh and recalled when one had caused damage to his wheel arches.

Why you should report potholes

So why is it so important to inform the council if you spot a pothole? Well, your chances of claiming compensation often depends on whether a pothole has already been reported.

Section 58 of the Highways Act 1980 provides councils with a statutory defence if they can show that reasonable care was taken to secure the road and that it wasn’t dangerous to traffic.

In other words, if the local authority knew about the pothole but hasn’t repaired it, or hasn’t followed road maintenance guidelines, you may be able to claim compensation. But if it’s gone unreported, you may not have a claim.

Is your area affected?

Potholes are one of the definite drawbacks of living in a rural Welsh village – not to mention the speed at which people hurtle across them causing the pothole to steadily grow.

I probably don’t need to tell you that Wales does tend to live up to its rainy reputation as well, which serves to feed and breed potholes in as many numbers as there are rabbits in the surrounding waterlogged fields.

When we last spoke to you about potholes, our poll found that 53% of you had sustained damage to your vehicle as a result of driving over a pothole. But I’m wondering how many of you actually reported it to the council?

Have you seen a pothole larger than a dustbin lid in your area recently? Have you reported it? If not, what’s stopping you?


I have seen more potholes this year, probably because of the cold weather before Christmas. Most have already been dealt with.

The biggest problem seems to be on narrow country roads, where vehicles drive onto the grass verge – often at speed – when meeting oncoming vehicles. This gradually nibbles away the edge of tarmac and then the potholes follow. This does not occur when there is a concrete kerb either at the same level as the road surface or a little higher. It’s a waste of money just to keep repairing tarmac without edging. I try to avoid driving on country roads at this time of year.

I don’t have a car with low profile tyres, which helps to avoid damage. The only time I have had a car damaged was when I drove over a recent pothole that was deep but invisible because it was filled with water. Some days later I discovered that the exhaust pipe was cracked next to the catalytic converter and that cost me a new catalytic converter. When I went back to establish where the pothole was so that I could report it, it had been filled.


Potholes may not only damage your wheels, but can be very dangerous to drivers – and particularly to motorcyclists and pedal cyclists. Drivers may be diverted by a pothole and head towards an oncoming vehicle or a hazard at the roadside. So it is important to report not only the presence of a pothole, but its depth and size, so the council can decide on prioritising its repair. Not only might they then be liable for damage to your car, but also for an accident if they don’t take timely action.


Another problem is that the potholes aren’t being repaired properly. Many of them are given a quick fill-in and then are back again a few weeks later.


A quick fix may be the only rapid solution but a proper repair or replacement of a poor section of road is essential. Our local roads are good with the exception of some country lanes but elsewhere in the country I have seen repairs of repairs, where it is obvious that this is not going to be a long-term solution.


One reason temporary repairs are made to potholes is to make that bit of road safe as quickly as possible. To repair the pothole more permanently may require a more extensive section of road to be removed, possibly requiring traffic control. I reported a local one that was near the middle if the road, and a road closure was required to be able to safely work on it. Our local authority repair around 4000 a month even when there is no severe weather – around 150 a day – and must do them as expediently as possible. If they had the money they would no doubt be replacing deficient road surfaces, but they haven’t. So how much extra would we like to pay in council tax?


I have recently reported two large potholes to Norfolk County Council using the on-line reporting facility. What a performance! It would have been much quicker to send an e-mail if I had known who to send it to. I tried to set up an account that is necessary if you wish to track the rectification but the system didn’t work properly and the link it sent me failed. Reverting to the ‘anonymous’ mode with no feedback function took me loads more clicks and they needed to know exactly – to a street door number – where the potholes were so I had to open an on-line OS map and enlarge it to determine the position. It was necessary to estimate the radius of the holes and their depth. They also wanted to know whereabouts in the carriageway the holes were – at the edge, in the wheel tracks, in the middle, etc. I can understand the reasons for all this information because it would obviously make the response more efficient but I can imagine many people not continuing with such a long-winded process so potholes get left unrepaired until someone’s car gets damaged. I could see that both the potholes I reported were old ones that had reopened and the section of road they were in was in exceedingly poor condition with many patches so it really requires a complete reconstruction and resurfacing – but will the pothole repair crew report that back to the office? – I doubt it [they depend on recurring potholes for their livelihood]. That might be unfair so I shall keep an eye on this particuar stretch of highway.


Very interesting John since you place a great deal of faith in “authorities”, I dont of coarse , but did you eventually get verification that it was logged into the system ? You do know the legal reason for this ? unless it is officially in the council roads dept. records the next person who breaks their car axle hasn’t a chance of suing the council as they will deny , and have done in the past, any knowledge of it.


Because of the reporting system’s failure to provide me with an account through which I could track the repair activity I do not have complete verification but I have received an automatic acknowledgment that my complaint has been logged so the County Council will not be able to deny knowledge of it. I subsequently reported the fault with the reporting system and this has been rectified so I have now been able to set up an account to enable me to track action on any future reports should I wish to.

I don’t have any special degree of faith in authorities but my overall experience is very satisfactory. I have reported failed street lights and found them to have been repaired within days – although I accept that I might not have been the first person to report them. Local authorities’ insurers presumably put pressure on them to have an effective fault reporting and rectification system, possibly under an approved quality assurance process, in order to reduce the potential for damage and injury claims, and it is also in the financial interests of councils to avoid costly claims management action and to keep insurance premiums as low as possible.

In the particular case of the potholes I have recently reported, they are wide but not especially deep and vehicle wheels roll over them safely – although it would be hazardous for a cyclist. The road has a 20 mph speed limit and is well-lit at the location; they are also on a raised platform of road [speed table] that is also an unofficial pedestrian crossing point, so drivers should be going cautiously at reduced speed prompted by the approach hump. I suggest that any vehicle damage here would be more likely to be caused by bad driving. Nevertheless, the potholes need to be fixed as soon as possible and I shall be checking every time I use that section of road.

I start out on these adventures into the world of public service in an optimistic frame of mind, Duncan, and use the processes available in every expectation that the authorities will do what they say they will. I am one of those annoying individuals for whom very few things seem to go wrong in such interactions and I invariably get satisfactory results so my mind is not tainted by suspicion that the public bodies will act dishonestly or against the public interest. I wish my experience of commerce was so favourable. The overall competence and integrity of our public services are the only things that make the re-nationalisation of any privatised services even thinkable, so for those who pursue such goals it is probably best to have faith in our public servants and not undermine them through a lack of confidence in their ability to perform properly.