/ 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.

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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.

I have found our local councillor very useful and helpful when local things need sorting out.

They know the right people to approach to get issues put right and it gives them something to boast about come election time.

The only time I had an issue with a pothole was when the council itself had specially dug one and forgotten to leave out the warning signs. I took photos and claimed for a damaged sump and fractured tyre wall. They paid up.

It makes a lot of sense for those discovering potholes to be asked about their size and position, as it enables priorities to be set for examination and action. Of course, you don’t have to do this, but as part of the community and you are able, it helps. When I reported my pothole I was kept up to date with progress and the report showed the pothole as officially recorded.

Some years ago, a windscreen got badly chipped with a spider effect from an oncoming car on a road where loose chippings had been left.

We claimed, and I cannot remember who now, but our claim passed through an unbelievable chain of organisations and companies who duly notified us our claim was being processed.

Many people seem to ignore the recommended speed when a road surface has been dressed and is awaiting the loose chippings to be removed.

I agree Malcolm. I have seen vehicles travelling at 60-70mph on roads that have 20mph speed limits following resurfacing. It’s important that the roads are swept periodically following resurfacing and that temporary speed limits are not in place longer than necessary, other the signs will be ignored.

I am pleased to report that the two potholes I recently notified were soon marked up for attention. I await the patching.

The quality of road repairs is not always very good. Last year the B-road into town was resurfaced. I was surprised that this was done because the road looked in good condition and had no potholes. There had been a couple of repairs adjacent to bus stops, but these were sound.

The road is now a mess. The surface is rough and there are many loose stone chips at the side of the road and on the pavement. The council sends in a sweeper periodically but the problem will persist until more work is done.

I have seen excellent resurfacing of other tarmac roads and wonder what went wrong with our B-road.

Was that a spray and grit resurfacing?

I wish someone would point out to councils that spray and grit is false economy.

We can wait years for a road to be properly resurfaced. Then they ruin it with spray and grit.

Grit sticks to tyres and breaks up other road surfaces creating potholes that then need periodic refilling. If it rains grit gets washed into drains causing flooding. The council then have to spend money getting the drains cleaned out. More money to send out road sweepers. Then the white lines have to repainted. Then there is the damage to cars they have to pay for.

Much better to save the money for a proper re-surface of tarmac.

From Shropshire’s website:
2. Surface dressing
Surface dressing is a simple and highly cost-effective method of repairing the road surface, which can prevent much more expensive work being needed later. It allows us to maintain a high quality road network on a finite budget.

The process involves spraying the road surface with a coating of hot liquid bitumen, known as a binder. The coating is then covered with clean crushed stone chippings, which are rolled into the bitumen to form a water-resistant, protective layer, which improves skid resistance.

It’s a mobile operation that allows us to reduce the time on site, minimising disruption to road users.

This type of work can only be undertaken in the spring and summer months, when the weather is warm and dry, as the bitumen will not stick to the road in cold or wet conditions.

Why we use surface dressing
Surface dressing offers many advantages:

– It seals the road surface which prevents water getting in to the underlying road structure.
– It slows the deterioration of the road surface and underlying road structure.
– It restores skid resistance to the road surface.
– It helps to reduce spray caused by vehicles travelling on wet road surfaces.
– The rapid speed of the process means that disruption to road users, local businesses and
emergency services is minimised.
– It lasts up to 10 years, maximising the cost-effectiveness of limited highway maintenance

They can say what they like malcolm, they will never convince me. If spray and grit is so darned good, why are these same roads littered with potholes within a few years of being done.

I also forgot to mention the hazard of loose grit to pedestrians, cyclists and motor cyclists.

A local road was resurfaced about 10 years ago and they must have forgotten to spray and grit it afterwards. It is not heavily used, but the condition is as good as the day it was done.

I am convinced councils do it because they can claim to have treated more roads.

Last year the “surface dressing” technique – which involves spraying the road with bitumen and covering it with stone chippings – left cars covered in dust and people coughing and spluttering. This year, road surfaces have started breaking up just weeks after being treated and other streets are said to have humps, presenting a trip hazard. or loose chippings flying in all directions as cars drive past.

Alfa – It was bitumen and chippings that were used for resurfacing the road. I was surprised it was done because it seemed in good condition, but I assume the surface was too smooth. It was our earlier Conversations that has encouraged me to look for potholes and cat’s eyes.

Just passing on Shropshire’s statement alfa; I’ve no knowledge of these matters. 🙂 It may be the basic road structure was defective.

The Highways Agency publish specifications for road surfacing, and here’s an extract from the bit on resurfacing concrete ones which expresses reservations:
3.11 Surface dressings may not have a very long life where turning heavy commercial traffic is likely to scour the surface. An advantage of bituminous surface dressing is the speed at which it can be applied, but it is a weather susceptible operation which is restricted to a limited season. Care must be taken in the selection of the right binder to suit the circumstances and control applied to achieve an even distribution of binder and chippings. Traffic control measures are extensive and complex because of the need for controlled slow speed trafficking of newly applied dressing, followed by sweeping to dislodge and remove any loose chippings.
Surface dressing is likely to need renewing at least once during the structural life of the slab.

3.13 A high level of low speed skidding resistance can be achieved by the application of a surface treatment consisting of various resin based binders and highly abrasion resistant calcined bauxite chippings. The performance of this type of treatment on concrete may not be as good as on bituminous surfaces because of the difficulty of obtaining good bond between the binder and the concrete surface over large area

Our council still lists the roads due for resurfacing in 2017, including the one that has been messed up. I hope that it remains in the 2018 list.

Those who carry out road repairs should be required to redo them if they prove defective. I’ve many times seen trenches dug for new services and repairs, only to sink after a few weeks. And they stay that way.

It would be interesting to know whether councils do pursue contractors when poor quality work is done.

Norfolk County Council does. It has had contractors back to redo long stretches of highway which failed and broke up soon after resurfacing. The work was redone at the contractor’s expense.

The council also makes mistakes itself, however, and recently had a central refuge with illuminated bollards installed at a junction which made the junction unworkable. It had to have it dismantled and repositioned several metres away. This in itself caused additional disruption because the electrical connections had to be diverted through a new trench.

I hope that our parish council will have the matter in hand because it is very active. If it is not mentioned in our magazine, I will report the problem.

You are lucky to still have illuminated bollards, John. When our road was resurfaced, new non-illuminated bollards (ones on springs that can survive being drive over) were fitted. One job that was done well was replacement of failed cat’s eyes.

If the bollards ever get hit at night it shows they should have been illuminated!

On lit roads with 30 mph or lower speed limits illuminated bollards should not really be necessary but, as a pedestrian crossing a road via a central refuge, I feel safer if I think the traffic can see the bollards clearly.

Some of that design are illuminated, but maybe it gives the drivers something to aim for. 🙁

I agree about the value of a refuge. There are a few street lights at the junction.

Retroreflective signs and bollard are effective, from my experience, with the advances made in materials. Car headlights do the job well. I’ve seen a number of lit bollards destroyed by wayward vehicles. Drivers will be drivers.
A problem with all road signage, lit or unlit, is keeping it clean, particularly when near fast traffic or close to foliage. I often see green speed limit signs where the legend is largely obscured.

For anyone who would like to delve into potholes and other road defects we have had several Convos including this one last year: https://conversation.which.co.uk/motoring/potholes-roads-cars-damage-tyres-council-lga/#cpage-1

We seem to be very good at recycling comments.

We can carry on complaining about potholes, but to repair them will cost money and that has to come out of our pockets one way or another. It is estimated that £9 billion is needed. If that were split 50/50 between businesses and households each household would need to contribute around £200. They won’t all be done at once, so assume 3 years – £67 a year. Perhaps we should bite the bullet, pay up extra each year, and have that ring fenced by local authorities? Those of you with cash might like to buy shares in road repairers.

But then we need to put £1.1bn into social care………

Just how do we find the cash to do all those necessary jobs? Well, maybe we don’t need to spend £7bn on F35 fighter jets? Or are they more important than social care and road safety?

Our council are spending all their pothole money making lumps and bumps in the roads. Some are worse than the holes that await repair.

Amazing how councils can find money to make roads worse, put up fancy signs and statues, go on jollies to Cannes at our expense, but moan they haven’t got enough for repairs and other essentials.

One thing all councils know how to do very well is waste money on unneeded unwanted things All Councils and the government as well Anything urgently needed is always put at the bottom of the list well below wasting OUR money

Is it time that a concerted effort to make the government stump up the necessary funds to properly repair the country’s roads, after driving in Europe over the last few years, our roads are a disgrace

One reason for that is that many countries on the continent that once had appalling infrastructure have received oodles of EU cash to put things right. As a nett contributor to the EU budget, the UK hasn’t had such largesse. I don’t have much problem with motorways and trunk roads maintained by Highways England but the condition of local roads managed by county authorities sometimes leaves a lot to be desired.

I mentioned here previously a couple of potholes that I reported to Norfolk County Council. They were duly filled within a reasonable time but the job was poorly done and the new material now stands well above the surrounding road surface and will soon get scoured out. The entire area is in a very bad state – yet it’s a raised table for pedestrians, including those using mobility aids, crossing to the doctors’ surgery – so I would have expected it to be scheduled for comprehensive renewal but that seems unlikely. I suppose I shall have to submit a report to get anything done – whatever happened to periodic highway inspections?

After the freezing recent conditions there will be plenty of potholes to be repaired. As John says, the main problem is with local roads. We have had some verges churned up and the edges of the tarmac nibbled away by drivers who probably did not know where the edge of the road was because of snow. In my view it makes no sense to take a car with low profile tyres on country roads.

One of our cars came with low profiles and the alloys were easily damaged. We changed them to higher profiles, much more comfortable ride, and the added benefit of clearing higher speed humps.

I once had a car that had low profile tyres and it was not exactly comfortable.

One of our local authorities is constructing a new footpath alongside a rural road between two villages a mile apart, cost around £250 000. Maybe nice to have although I can’t see many people using it. That money could have repaired over 4000 potholes.

We now have a combined footpath and cycle path into town and it is well used in decent weather. The last bus home leaves town at 17.10 so I’ve walked home a few times. Before the footpath was completed it was not very safe for pedestrians walking along the B road.

When checking the tyres at the weekend I often peer under the car to look for anything amiss. I spotted that one of the rear coil springs was broken near the end and the small piece was inside the rest of the spring. A new spring was fitted yesterday. I presume that I have been victim of the series of speed bumps in the village because I don’t recall visiting any significant potholes. There were no strange noises and I did not notice any differences in how the car handled, so had I not looked I could have been driving with a broken spring until the next MOT – next July. 🙁

My garage told me the quality of springs is not what it was. One 24 year old car has never had a spring replaced. Its 14 year old sibling has had all four. One I discovered only after picking up a thick black ring off the drive and asked my mobile mechanic what it was – it was, of course, the bottom of a spring. A break there might well go unnoticed as the car corner height and spring performance will be relatively unaffected. If a spring breaks breaks partway down its length it can damage the inside wall of the tyre.

The black ring is one of the rubber pads that should be on the ends of the springs to prevent rattling and damage. I found one inside the coil spring together with the broken piece of spring. It’s not uncommon to see rubber pads and bits of broken spring at the roadside. This is the first time I have had a broken spring but it does seem to be a common problem.

Apparently ‘spring catchers’ are available for models where the spring is close to a tyre: https://www.theaa.com/driving-advice/service-repair/coil-springs-breaking

The black ring was the broken steel end ring – the final coil – on the spring.

When I took my car in I was told that the condition of the other rear coil spring would be checked and replaced if there was any sign of deterioration. If a front spring had failed I would have asked for both to be replaced.

I’m not sure this is worthwhile unless there is obvious damage. I’ve only ever been advised by my garage to replace the one (broken) spring. Other suspension components like shock absorbers, bushes, may well wear in similar ways and need replacing in pairs. Has anyone any information on spring replacement?

There is no doubt that springs deteriorate with use and in the case of front springs, handling is more likely to be affected. Other components such as shock absorbers could be damaged when a front spring fails. With safety matters I usually play safe.

Having heard so much about how wonderful things are in the United States I was surprised to read recently about the state of the roads. I have been reading a book by Jon Sopel, the BBC’s North America Editor, called “If only they didn’t speak English” about the differences between the USA and the UK. He writes “It is hard to exaggerate the dilapidated state of so much American infrastructure. Roads are crumbling, bridges are regularly closed for emergency maintenance, airports are in a terrible state.” Apparently, local roads are peppered with potholes, cracks and craters. Sopel suggests that Americans are so averse to taxes that they will not support additional expenditure until the problem becomes life-threatening, and until then everyone has to drive slowly. The suspension on American cars probably helps but they are increasingly running compact imported cars these days. I am not suggesting that we adopt the American attitude to road maintenance; we should aspire to the French standard.

When my in-laws from the USA visited last year they commented on how good the roads are here. Back home a “Michigan road” is one peppered with pot holes, ruts, bumps etc. I suspect there are also “Ohio”, “Montana”, “Florida” etc etc roads, depending on where the person lives.

My experience of living in France was that there were plenty of bumpy, pot-holed roads, though the motorways (on which tolls were often charged) were generally smooth. I also came across plenty of bumpy roads in Germany – including motorways. It used to amuse me when British people would tell me, with great authority, how good the motorways were in Germany. When I asked them which motorways they had driven on, it would turn out they had never been to Germany.

I occasionally hear someone complain about potholes in such-and-such a street. When I ask if they have reported them (easily done via the Council website) they generally reply that the Council should know about pot holes without them being reported. Perhaps our Councils should have psychic powers, or perhaps their own staff should be out hunting for pot holes – but it doesn’t hurt to give them a hand, rather than just whingeing.