THE bill for damage to cars caused by potholes has jumped by 16 per cent to £1.2 billion in the past 12 months, a report has shown.
As heavy rain erodes patched road surfaces, figures from Halfords Autocentres show that more than 8.9 million vehicles across the UK – almost three in ten – have suffered damage as a result of potholes over the past year.
It is estimated by motoring and cycling websites that reports of dangerous potholes have increased by 18 per cent over the past 12 months, while the Asphalt Industry Alliance figures suggest that the UK’s roads are pitted with as many as two million craters.
Experts are anticipating further damage from frost and snow over the coming months.
The issue has dogged Scottish local authorities in recent years as extreme winter conditions undermine roads faster than they can mend them.
Last May, the public spending watchdog, the Accounts Commission, criticised Scottish councils for not acting on its 2011 recommendations to improve road maintenance and failing to tackle a repairs backlog fast enough.
It said a third of local, or non-trunk, roads remained in an unacceptable condition.
Rory Carlin, from Halfords Autocentres, said of the latest figures: “The surface of our roads is deteriorating to the point where drivers are now likely to encounter a potentially damaging pothole during most journeys – with rain-filled holes being harder to see and avoid.
“In a new car, a small pothole can damage wheels, tyres and shock absorbers, but with large numbers of drivers keeping their cars for longer and cutting back on routine maintenance – older, less well maintained cars are even more vulnerable.”
Rectifying the damage caused by potholes can range from putting wheels back in alignment to more costly suspension work, with an average repair bill of £140.
Insurance companies attribute as many as one in five mechanical vehicle failures to pothole-related damage.
The cost, frequency and regional variations in reported pothole damage were calculated by examining the steering and suspension repair work carried out across the Halfords Autocentres network over a year, starting from December 2012, and interpreting this data in line with the business’s share of the total UK repair market.
The government and local authorities are now spending almost £1bn a year on highway maintenance but, despite repairing more than 2.2 million potholes a year, experts believe that fixing the backlog could take more than ten years.
The Institute of Advanced Motorists’ director of policy and research Neil Greig said not enough was being done to tackle the issue. He added: “We’re coming up for the pothole season – end of January, February – and the frost and rain will start to lift the road patches, and that’s when things will really start to get bad again.
“If you look at the figures for the backlog of repairs, we’re just not making an inroad into that. Even though there have been initiatives in Holyrood and Westminster to put a bit more money and a bit more organisation into it, this still doesn’t seem to be tackling that backlog.”
He said things were likely to get worse.
Greig said many councils had switched from rolling programmes of patching to carrying out full resurfacing as a more permanent solution. However, the effort and time taken to do this meant that, in the short term, more potholes were being left unrepaired for longer.