The low down on potholes – Who is responsible & can I make a claim?



Potholes: stay safe and don’t lose out

We have been warning for some years about the dangers of potholes on our roads. Although there are various pledges from authorities across the country to deal with the worst of the potholes, the fact remains that they pose a continued and significant danger to road users.

Recent figures from the World Economic Forum show the UK dropping from 24th to 28th place for the quality of its road infrastructure, putting it behind Chile, Cyprus and Croatia – and on a par with the southern African state of Namibia.

The state of the roads unfortunately has an enormous financial impact on motorists, who most of the time end up bearing the cost of repairs to their own paintwork, suspension and tyres. Those who can’t afford these repairs risk making journeys in vehicles that are potentially unsafe.

That’s why we are offering advice that will not only help to keep you safe on your journeys but will also help you deal with the consequences of pothole damage.


Stay safe on the road

1. Always be aware of dangerous potholes on your route home and in your area and, if necessary, find an alternative route.

2. Remember to keep your distance from the car in front. Motorists will often brake or swerve suddenly if they have spotted a pothole too late, so ensure you are far enough away to slow down safely.

3. Make sure you stick to the speed limit and slow down on smaller roads and residential streets where potholes may be prevalent. Hitting a pothole at speed will cause much more damage to your vehicle.

4. Never swerve to avoid a pothole; always slow down or stop completely if necessary, checking that there are no cars close behind you. Drive over the pothole slowly or manoeuvre around it if it’s safe to do so.


Get something done

1. Help your local authority and report any dangerous potholes that are causing problems in the area. After all, your local authority cannot be held liable for a defect they are not aware of.

2. Your local council website will guide you to the right procedure for reporting a pothole.

3. Main roads are the responsibility of the Highways Agency, not the local authority, so call them on 0300 123 5000. This number is available 24 hours a day.

strong>Build a case

1. If you believe you have a valid claim for pothole damage, make sure you are able to give the exact location of the offending pothole.

2. Note when you went through it, what direction you were travelling and approximately how wide and deep you believe it to have been.

3. If it’s safe, stop and examine the pothole. Take photographs if you can, but don’t put yourself or anyone else at risk in the process.

4. Obtain quotes for any repairs that may be required. Keep copies of these, along with receipts and invoices, if they form part of your claim.

5. Then write to the local authority, including all the details and requesting a settlement of your claim.

6. Expect a rejection, as the local authority will most likely explain that it has a system of regular inspection and repair. But you can check what the council may be liable for, and can take steps to make sure they are carrying out the system they claim to have.

7. If you feel your case is strong enough, it may be worth getting legal advice or taking your case to the small claims court. However, be aware that it could end up being a lengthy and costly process.

Frequently asked questions

What causes potholes to form?

Potholes and road defects are usually formed when water gets into the road surface through cracks. In winter, when temperatures drop, the water freezes and expands, causing the surface to break up.  When the ice melts it leaves a space below the surface, which collapses under the weight of traffic and eventually forms a pothole.

Who’s responsible for repairing potholes?

Depending on the road, then it will either be the local authority of the Highways Agency. Councils inspect all roads for safety defects; some more frequently than others. Bigger, busier roads are typically inspected more frequently than quiet, little-used roads.

Can I report a pothole?

Yes, you can – and you should! Potholes open between inspections, so there might be some time lag between the formation of the pothole and the local authority becoming aware, so your report will be very useful in helping the local authority prioritise and deal with the damage.

What sort of damage can a pothole do to my car?

The damage can be instant, such as a punctured tyre, or dents forming around the wheel and on the lower bodywork. Alternatively, it could lead to the shock absorbing system becoming compromised, or a misalignment of the steering system. You won’t be able to see this, but may detect it over a longer period because you’ll feel the car to be harder to steer, or your tyres may be wear out more quickly than you might expect. The deepest potholes can cause serious damage to your car’s tracking, tyres and wheels.

Why can’t I automatically win a claim for my costs of putting pothole damage right?

Local authorities have a statutory defence that they cannot be held responsible for damage from potholes they did not know about. It’s best to check the website of an individual local authority, which must provide a mechanism for you to report a pothole.

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