/ Motoring

Why are the nation’s roads in such a sorry state?

Roadwork signs

Are you fed up with Britain’s roads? Potholes and worn markings can make driving a headache. It’s particularly frustrating when roadworks seem to constantly puncture our highways. Is there a solution?

A good way to judge the state of a country is by assessing its infrastructure. On this metric, the UK only just comes across as a developing nation.

Crumbling roads and creaking railways are inconvenient at best and downright dangerous at worst.

How many times have you swerved across the road to avoid a huge pothole? Have you found your car gets caught in ruts on the motorway caused by heavy lorry use? It’s a problem that’s particularly relevant today, as it’s the beginning of Road Safety Week.

It’s only going to get worse

It’s not just A-roads and motorways that are suffering. Urban roads are notoriously bad, causing hazards for more vulnerable road users such as cyclists and motorcyclists. Only this morning I was very nearly thrown off my bike due to an unseen pothole.

Surely, things can only get worse. We’re all tightening our belts as a result of government cutbacks, and road improvements are going to be way down the list of priorities for civil servants as they spread a reduced budget even more thinly.

And as if we didn’t have enough hold-ups due to roadworks and emergency repairs, this ‘sticking plaster’ approach to road mending is causing more lost time due to route disruption. Mending the road six times causes more hold-ups than doing the job properly, once.

Danger around the corner

There are a number of things that I think should be improved with this nation’s roads. Worn out road surfaces that contribute to longer stopping distances should be resurfaced. Potholes should be properly repaired, not just patched up – this never lasts very long.

Road markings need to be clear and unambiguous – and someone needs to take a look at excessive signage. Outside this office, there’s a big yellow sign that states ‘DUST SUPPRESSION TRIAL’. Do we really need to know this? What difference does it make to our driving or the route we take? Spend less on signs and more on road improvements, I say.

Viva la Europe

Once again our European neighbours seem to have the upper hand – anyone who has enjoyed a cross-country journey in Germany or France will marvel at the clear signage, lack of roadworks and free-flowing traffic. Admittedly, some of these nations have roads funded by tolls – but, increasingly, so do we.

Why can’t a higher proportion of our vehicle excise duty (VED, or road tax) go towards mending the roads? We’re taxed at the pumps – surely we’re entitled to some benefit?

To mark Road Safety Week (22-29 November) our experts are poised to answer your questions in our live car safety Q&A on Tuesday 23 November, from 11.30am-3pm.


The state of many major [A] roads in Norfolk and Suffolk leaves a lot to be desired. Disregarding the narrow carriageways, overgrowth of vegetation, tight bends, adverse cambers, poor signage and worn-out surfaces we have to cope with innumerable cavities, collapsed ironworks, ruts and troughs, and lack of markings. The authorities are already saying loud and clear that money will be short over the next few years so highway reconstruction will be severely restricted. It seems to me that what money there is should be channelled primarily into safety improvements – £10,000 spent on white paint for carriageway markings, hazard warnings, speed limit reminders, etc, can make a big difference, and clearing away all the unauthorised roadside advertising would make a major contribution to road safety by removing distractions and improving visibility, especially at roundabouts and junctions, Around these parts we are currently in the middle of the sugar beet harvest; this means that every road, however small, is being pounded day-in, day-out by heavy trucks spilling mud [and the odd beet] onto the highway and the roadside verges are being eroded leaving a crevasse on the nearside. Potholes are being banged open again after patch-repairs so frost and ice will attack once more. It would be interesting to know how much is spent each year on highway maintenance in total and how much is raised through vehicle excise and fuel duties and the roads element of council taxes. Obviously, some of that money has to be spent on policing, licensing, lighting, signposting and emergency services but it might just be that drivers should be paying even more, not less, towards upkeep of the road network.

As an irregular driver, I’ve noticed a slight deterioration of the general state of roads in recent years.

I agree with potholes/cycling – very dangerous. If you don’t go in it, you usually have to swerve to the right to avoid it!

A particular gripe of mine is my own street, a short cul-de-sac. The surface is in a really bad state. Another short cul-de-sac, parallel to mine was resurfaced about two years ago, yet mine hasn’t been touched. Apart from probably prioritising the main roads, I don’t
understand what the policy is for prioritising other roads. Why should one road in a bad state be ‘fixed’ while another similarly bad road, similar size/length and similar traffic use be left. The only significant difference between the two roads that I can see is the type of housing/people who live there.

Perhaps calling the local council/putting pressure on them will help?

Impose a fixed-figure tax on all foreign-registered vehicles entering the UK to go towards the cost of checking the state of their vehicles and the cost of highway maintenance. The tax can last a year and can vary according to the size/type of vehicle and can be taxed at foreign ports/entry points.

This isn’t the answer to all our road problems, merely one solution of possibly many that may help.

pickle says:
23 November 2010

I agree with fat sam…..As far as potholes are concerned, I thnk that most would be better dealt with if they were patched before they get too big and need proper repair. Possibly householders could be given a bag or two of cold repair material and be encouraged to patch small holes as soon as they appear.

James Harrison says:
23 November 2010

Ice attacks poorly laid or insubstantial tarmac (or indeed concrete). Even motorways have an occasional little hole appear which is obviously repaired jolly fast. The vast majority of our tarmac roads are very old and our councils/government don’t wish to spend the money properly on deep tarmac. Instead they tender out to the lowest bidder a contract to spread tar covered with grit over the old tarmac, which looks good for a couple of weeks each year they do it and then we get broken windscreens and then, when the sun comes out, it melts and we slip around on it and it sticks to the bodywork instead of the road. Then it needs doing again. Meanwhile, the underlying tarmac gets older and thinner and more frail. The frost (and sun and rain and traffic – especially the huge lorries) does its worst. We pay good money to drive on well maintained roads. This is the law. Do you think that the govenment – local or not – is guilty too? I certainly do. We go to jail if we don’t pay our taxes, yet the governments get away with not doing their job!

There is no any solution for potholes. Govt. is not interested for potholes. They would like to keep their potholes business on and on!…. It creates more businesses for car dealers, car repairer, tyre fitters, insurance companies, breakdown services, hospital services, pharmacist etc. You name it ,it generates money for them.
Govt. do not have money for road improvement!…… but they have got billion pounds to save Irelands debt crisis !…………………….
God, save our drivers from potholes!
Our future for Road improvement is not bright!
All drivers and passengers has to feel like theme park ride for few years !

Here in Birmingham, the state of roads has improved after the council signed a long term contract (something like 25 years costing around £ 20 billion) with Amey earlier this year.
The pothole reporting section of the Council website seems to be acted upon more quickly. Road maintenance in general has improved, with new resurfacing works being completed on time and quickly. Our road was resurfaced in October and took in total a combined time of only one day (resurfacing in an afternoon, masking removed and ironworks re-exposed in a morning). This compared to two large potholes being repaired before the contract, which themselves took a whole morning.
New works are keeping to timescales

We have a problem here in Britain because our ‘cold’ is not cold enough. It hovers round freezing point, so ground water keeps freezing and thawing – water expands on freezing and makes the road surface crumble. Also, ice melts under compression when it is near freezing point and it’s this that makes it slippy. The really cold snow and ice in places like Canada don’t do this.
I suppose it’s possible in theory to have a non-porous surface. That may not crumble, but would turn into an ice sheet if surface water couldn’t drain. I’m sure all these things have been considered and suspect the real culprit, apart from the weather, is cost.

Alan Brown says:
26 April 2012

Our roads in such a sorry state because _we_ let councils and highway authorities get away with substandard maintenance – which then results in a need for expensive capital works.

Part of the problem is that while road maintenance is delegated to councils, they are not legally obliged to maintain them to any particular standard – nor to enforce issues such as vegetation obstructions.

I suspect it will take some class action litigation and/or something like a major pressure campaign from the likes of the Association of British Insurers to force the issue.