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Q1 sees sharpest rise in pothole breakdowns on record

The increase in pothole-related breakdowns reached a new high in the first quarter of 2021 after the cold weather took its toll.

The RAC said its data highlights the parlous state of many roads, which have been ravaged by the colder winter weather

Despite the national coronavirus lockdown, the first three months of 2021 saw RAC patrols attend a total of 4,694 callouts that were most likely the result of hitting a pothole; the equivalent of 52 pothole-related breakdowns a day.

This represents a whopping 221.3% increase from the 1,461 in Q4 2020 and is the largest rise between quarters the RAC has ever seen. Compared with the same period in 2020, the Q1 figure is up 37% too – despite the fact that the country spent much of the first quarter of 2021 in lockdown, with lighter-than-normal traffic volumes on road.

The RAC’s latest Pothole Index reinforces the data on the poor condition of the UK’s roads. The index – a long-term measure of the condition of roads and adjusted for weather and seasonal effects – also increased in the first quarter of 2021 for the first time since early 2018 and now stands at 1.48, up from 1.44 as of the end of December 2020.

This indicates that drivers are nearly one-and-a-half times more likely to breakdown as a result of hitting potholes today than they were when the RAC first started collecting data back in 2006.

The RAC said the numbers highlight the parlous state of many roads, which have been ravaged by the colder winter weather that affected much of the UK between January and March.

Head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: “Back in January we feared the colder winter risked causing further extensive damage to the roads, and it’s clear this is now exactly what has happened. Many drivers are finding themselves having to use roads that in places better resemble the surface of the Moon and, as our figures show, thousands are suffering from unnecessary and, no doubt, costly breakdowns caused by potholes.”

The data also puts into sharp focus the enormous task now facing local and national governments to bring road surface standards up to a reasonable level. Despite promises of more money from central government, the RAC believes many councils remain stuck in a vicious cycle, unable to properly repair the hundreds, if not thousands, of miles of roads they are responsible for.

Nicholas Lyes continued: “Pots of funding announced annually may help fill some potholes, but they don’t cure the problem over the long-term by dealing with underlying major surface defects. Nor do they allow local authorities to plan routine maintenance. Figures as bad as the ones we are publishing today should herald a watershed moment where authorities finally acknowledge the perilous state many roads are currently in and take decisive action to bring them up to a reasonable standard.”

On the back of the figures, the RAC is appealing to the Transport Secretary and the Treasury to take a fresh look at roads funding.

“Potholes are a sign of broken roads, but they are also a sign of the broken nature of how the roads are looked after and paid for. The UK government and local authorities must break the cycle and commit to doing something differently – if they don’t, all road users will continue to suffer unnecessarily,” added Lyes.

The RAC’s appeal echoes the call last month from the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) for a longer-term approach to local road maintenance funding.

According to this year’s newly published Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey, although highway maintenance budgets have risen 15% – due in part to additional funding from the Government, including the Pothole Fund announced in last year’s Budget for England  – budgets reported by local authorities are still lower than they were two years ago, and road conditions have yet to see any significant improvement.

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day. Natalie edits all the Fleet World websites and newsletters, and loves to hear about any latest industry news.

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