The pothole problem: your guide to a bumpy road 

Potholes have long been the arch-enemy of road users – not just in the UK, but across the world – and with 24,000 miles of British roads now plagued by potholes, you are bound to run into one or two on your journey, potentially causing you to breakdown or damage your car.

Research by the RAC found that the number of breakdowns caused by potholes between April and June 2018 was the highest level it has been for three years due to the worsening state of Britain’s roads. With Winter on its way and the temperatures set to drop, pothole season will soon be upon us once more. Here at Budget Insurance, we have teamed up with our friends at the RAC to tell you everything you need to know about potholes - including how to avoid them and how to claim if you run into one.

How are potholes formed?

Potholes can occur at any time of the year and can appear for different reasons, which makes them a difficult problem to fix. Some of the reasons potholes occur include:

Bad weather

One of the most common causes of potholes is something that the UK does best: bad weather. Last year was a particularly bad year with the wild weather from the Beast from the East not helping the state of UK roads. When it rains water seeps into cracks in the road which freeze and then expand. This water then melts and evaporates leaving a gap in the road surface. As a result, when cars drive over the weakened surface of the road, a pothole occurs. This is why you see more potholes in the Winter months due to the bad weather.  

Busy traffic

According to the Department for Transport, traffic on UK roads has increased by over 15% in the last 20 years. This has resulted in the classic concept of the “rush hour” being stretched as drivers face longer waiting times on congested roads. Research has shown that in 2017, UK drivers spent, on average, longer than a day stuck in rush hour traffic – a further increase from the previous year. This has put a strain on Britain’s roads and has resulted in the World Economic Forum listing Britain as 27th in the world for road quality – behind countries such as Chile and Oman!

How bad is the pothole problem?

With 4,000 breakdowns in the second quarter of 2018 being attributed to potholes, it is definitely a problem that affects a lot of drivers. The Chair of the Transport Select Committee, Lilian Greenwood, highlighted the “cost to motorists [of] damage to road vehicles” as a consequence of the pothole issue. But, what has been done to fix the problem?

The Transport Select Committee have announced an inquiry into the funding and maintenance of roads in England to try to fix the problem. The Department for Transport has also stressed the £296 million it has made available through the Pothole Action Fund to fix the problem – but will that fill the gap?

Meanwhile, some companies and individuals have taken creative steps to try to fix the problem:

Paving for Pizza

The famous American pizza chain, Dominos, has taken matters into its own hands in the US and has started to repair potholes across the country by inviting its US customers to take part in the Paving For Pizza scheme, where they can nominate their town’s potholes to be fixed by Dominos’ branded road repair truck. The stunt brought attention to the pothole problem in the US and raised questions about possible solutions – but is that enough? Is this something that would be welcomed here in the UK?

Cereal solution

A particularly motivated individual has adopted an unusual method of bringing attention to the cause. Frustrated with the issue of potholes in his local area, one Scottish resident went to the extreme lengths of filling potholes with breakfast cereal as a way of highlighting the issue to his local council. Whilst this is a fun solution to a serious problem, it’s not one we would recommend trying yourself!

Plastic for potholes

One solution that has been tested aims to tackle two issues at the same time. Taking inspiration from India, one Scottish company has invented a way to use recycled plastics as a way to fill potholes and reinforce the road. Not only is it environmentally friendly, but the company founder has stated that his solution is 60% stronger than traditional roads meaning that it will reduce the likelihood of further potholes. Are plastic roads a possible solution for the future – what do you think?

You can find out more about the plastic problem and how you can reduce your plastic consumption here.

How can I avoid pothole damage to my car?

With there are so many potholes on the road, it’s almost inevitable that you will drive over one or two in your day-to-day driving. Nevertheless, there are some things you could do to proactively protect yourself against damage to your car:

Smart driving

Navigating a road full of potholes can be a daunting experience, but there are some subtle changes you can make to your driving that can help the experience be as smooth as possible. Being aware of an upcoming pothole as early as possible can help you slow down or change your road position to avoid driving over it with a high impact. Keeping a safe distance from the driver in front of you and adjusting your speed on particularly bad roads is key to avoiding a nasty bump. Smaller, country roads are often in worse conditions than larger roads so be sure to set your sat nav to follow as many main roads as possible. Driving in Winter can be especially difficult, but it’s even more important to be aware of your driving and ensure you’re safe on the roads – have a look at our quick guide to Winter driving here.

Car maintenance

Some potholes are hard to avoid – especially on busy roads, or roads you are unsure of. Therefore, it’s wise to check your car’s maintenance regularly in order to ensure your car is well-equipped to deal with the bumpy road ahead. Things like ensuring your tyre pressure is correct, keeping a close eye on your tyre tread and making sure there are no chips or cracks in your windscreen can help you avoid serious damage to your car. Not only will keeping an eye on these help protect you against potholes, but they will make sure you are on the right side of the law. Brush up on your knowledge of what to do here.

Getting protection

Sometimes it is impossible to avoid going over a pothole and some damage to your car is therefore inevitable. In this situation, having roadside assistance can help you if you break down due to damage caused by a pothole. As a Budget Insurance customer, you can add RAC roadside assistance to your policy using your Self Service Centre, from as little as £3.99 per month. There are five different levels available so you’re sure to find something to suit your needs. You can choose from:

  • UK Roadside - If you break down over ¼ of a mile from your home address, the RAC will fix your car at the roadside or if that’s not possible, take your car and up to 8 passengers to a destination of your choice within 10 miles of the breakdown.
  • UK Roadside and Recovery  - This is the same as UK Roadside, but RAC will take your car and up to 8 passengers to a destination of your choice anywhere in the UK – not limited to 10 miles from the breakdown.
  • UK Roadside, Recovery and At Home  - This is the same cover as UK Roadside and Recovery, but includes breakdowns at home and within ¼ miles of your home address.
  • UK Roadside, Recovery, At Home and Onward Travel - The same as UK Roadside, Recovery and At Home, but you also get either: replacement car hire for up to 24 hours; onward travel by another means; or overnight accommodation while your car is being repaired, up to a limit of £150 per person or £500 for your party – whichever is less.
  • EU & UK Roadside, Recovery, At Home and Onward Travel – The same as UK Roadside, Recovery, At Home and Onward Travel, but you’ll also be covered for assistance in 48 European countries.

How can I make a claim for pothole damage?

If you have been unlucky enough to damage your car by hitting a pothole, there are certain things you will need to do in order to make a claim and report the pothole:

Firstly, you need to get as much information as possible about the pothole. This should include: where the pothole is (road name, town, postcode etc.), the measurements of the pothole, the contact details of anyone who witnessed the damage and the time and date you hit the pothole. If it is safe to do so, taking a photo of the pothole can help with identifying its exact size and location.

You will then need to contact the relevant authority in your area to report the pothole. Reporting a pothole can help to back up your claims process further down the line. It is, however, advisable to contact your insurance company first, as their terms regarding pothole claims may differ.
 
It is vital for your claim that you show that the damage caused to your car was caused by a pothole, and not a pre-existing issue. Getting your car checked by a mechanic and having this in writing will help your claim.

If in doubt, and for more information on how to make a claim for pothole damage, contact your insurer in the first instance.

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