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Potholes: the beast of roads

Last month, we had severe travel disruption caused by treacherous icy and snowy road conditions. This month, we are relieved with spring finally making its appearance, however, road users are still facing the challenge of the freezing conditions with ever increasing potholes in roads.

As a result of water having made its way into cracks in the road, freezing and then expanding during the recent spate of adverse weather, already bad road surfaces have broken up even more.

Potholes present a danger to drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. As well as causing damage to cars and discomfort to passengers they can present a risk of serious accident leading to a personal injury. Often, drivers will swerve their vehicles in an attempt to avoid potholes, or lose control which can lead them into the path of other road users or towards pedestrians on the pavement.

Department for Transport figures suggests that in total, 22 cyclists died and 368 were seriously injured because of poorly maintained roads between 2007 and 2016. In addition, the latest report from the RAC showed that its patrols attended 11% more breakdowns in the last quarter of 2017 that were attributed to potholes than in the same period in 2016. And with the recent icy weather it would seem road conditions have only got worse.

The Law

Councils are legally obliged under the Highways Act 1980 to maintain roads and footpaths within their boundaries. However, the law recognises that local authorities cannot reasonably repair every pothole as soon as it occurs. There is, therefore, a duty on them to have a rigorous and reasonable inspection process in place.

Local authorities have a defence (known as a Section 58 defence) if they can show that they had a suitable system of inspection of roads and pavements in place and that they followed this system.

Most local authorities adopt a system of inspection recommended by the Department of Transport. The system sets out how often they should perform inspections, how quickly they should check reported defects and, once checked, how quickly they should repair the defects.

If the local authority can prove they have followed their suitable system of inspection, then they are said to have taken reasonable care and a claim will fail.

How to minimise the risk of injury

  1. Look well ahead for potential hazards and drive slowly at a safe distance from other vehicles to avoid harsh braking or steering;
  2. Ensure that your tyres are properly inflated to the correct pressure;
  3. If you are unable to avoid a pothole, slow down before you hit it. Try not to brake directly over the pothole as this could cause more damage;
  4. When driving over the pothole hold your steering wheel or handlebars firmly to avoid losing control ;
  5. As a cyclist, wear a cycle helmet which will offer some degree of protection;
  6. Proceed with caution when driving over puddles as there could be a pothole underneath.

Whilst local authorities have a duty to maintain the roads, they can only fill a pothole if they know about it. Reporting a pothole can make the roads that little bit safer for yourself and others so if you are unfortunate enough to encounter a pothole, do try and report this promptly to your Local Authority. If the pothole is on a motorway or major A-road in England it is recommended that you contact Highways England.