RAC deals with record number of third-quarter pothole breakdowns, but there are solutions…

The poor condition of Britain’s local roads has led to the RAC dealing with the highest number of pothole-related breakdowns it has seen in any third quarter since it began recording this data in 2006.

RAC patrols went to the rescue of 5,978 drivers from July to September for damaged shock absorbers, broken suspension springs or distorted wheels – the call-outs which are most likely to be caused by wear and tear from defective road surfaces. This was 580 more than the previous third-quarter high of 5,398 recorded in 2013. It was also 1,893 more than the same period in 2022 when there were 4,085 – meaning this year has seen a 46% increase.

July to September, however, is not the worst quarter of the year for pothole breakdowns – that dubious honour goes to the colder months of January to March. The first quarter of 2021 still holds the record for the RAC’s highest number of pothole call-outs in a quarter, with a shocking 14,827 drivers breaking down for that reason.

The July to September 2023 findings have also led to an increase in the RAC Pothole Index, which tracks the probability of drivers suffering a pothole-related breakdown since 2006. The index has now increased to 1.7 which means motorists are nearly twice as likely to break down due to the repeated wear caused by potholes than they were 17 years ago.

The RAC’s figures, however, purposefully don’t include punctures as these are often caused by nails and screws as well as poor road surfaces. Between July and September RAC patrols went out to 101,000 puncture jobs which is an 8% increase on the same period in 2022 which may imply that poor road surfaces were partially to blame.

Garage repair data analysed by the RAC shows that drivers can currently expect to pay an average of £440 if their car needs fixing after hitting a pothole, for anything more serious than a puncture.*

RAC head of policy Simon Williams said: “Our analysis of pothole-related breakdowns is sadly once again showing that the sub-standard state of the country’s local roads is causing a world of pain for drivers, let alone those on two wheels.

“Fortunately, the Government has promised £8.3bn for local highways authorities over a five-year period which should give them the certainty of funding they need to be able to plan longer term road maintenance work. We very much look forward to finding out exactly how the money will be allocated.

“We have long argued that it’s not just a question of filling potholes, it’s about getting the roads in the worst condition resurfaced. Then, it’s vital that more councils start to make greater use of surface treatments which can cost effectively extend the lives of these roads.

“Our analysis of government data** shows that many are no longer surfacing dressing their roads which partly explains why so many are now peppered with potholes. Our message to government is therefore not just to get the potholes fixed, but to get councils using surface dressing again as this helps seal roads which prevents water getting in cracking the asphalt when the temperature drops to freezing.

“We’ve also asked the Department for Transport to set out guidance for councils on how best to make use of their funding. Roads in better condition need to be kept that way through a combination of carrying out the most permanent pothole repairs possible, with those requiring more attention being surface dressed, while roads that are no longer fit for purpose must be fully resurfaced.

“If this approach is adopted, we believe we will eventually see lasting benefits and a welcome end to the pothole plague drivers have had to endure for far too many years.”

RAC recorded pothole-related breakdowns – full year: 1 November – 30 September

To 30 September 2018To 30 September 2019To 30 September 2020To 30 September 2021To 30 September 2022To 30 September 2023

RAC recorded pothole-related breakdowns – third quarter, July to September

Q3 2018Q3 2019Q3 2020Q3 2021Q3 2022Q3 2023

Commenting on the latest figures from the RAC Mike Kiely, Managing Director of Kiely Bros, said:

“We’re not surprised to see new figures from the RAC reveal pothole-related breakdowns are at the highest level for this quarter since records began in 2006. This shows a need to fix and prevent potholes more effectively, especially as the condition of the UK’s road network is only going to get worse as winter approaches.

“We therefore welcome the RAC’s call for Central Government to provide guidance on how local authorities can make best use of their road maintenance budgets and to encourage more councils to roll out surface dressing to prevent potholes forming.

“Surface dressing is a fast, green and cost-effective solution that extends the lifespan of existing road surface infrastructure by forming a seal over the existing road surface by adding an additional layer of wearing course. This prevents water ingress which, once frozen, expands deforming the surface and starting the process of surface failure.

“Earlier this year we invested in bringing a new surface maintenance solution to the UK. The innovative Multipatcher, tried and tested in Australia for over 10 years, is the UK’s first road surface dressing machine that can carry out pothole repairs and surface dressing both at the front and rear end of the vehicle, and all without needing any operatives out in the road.

“This means we can protect our workforce from heavy machinery and the passing traffic whilst helping Local Authorities deliver preventative works and repairs far cheaper, safer, greener and quicker than traditional road surfacing methods. More technology like our Multipatcher is needed to improve the UK road network, reduce pothole-related breakdowns and create smoother journeys for drivers.

“Naturally we welcomed Rishi Sunak’s announcement at the Conservative Party Conference last month of an additional £8.3bn for Local Highways Authorities to repair potholes, so will be looking to the Autumn Statement to ensure Local Councils get this essential funding needed to fix and prevent potholes from forming.”

Paul Boss, Chief Executive of the Road Surface Treatments Association added: “According to statistics from the latest RSTA/REA Surface dressing campaign,  the percentage of roads (A, B & C) receiving surface dressing treatment has declined 30% since 2016. This is mirrored by feedback from REA members who report a 36% decline in the application of surface dressing – and an increase in potholes-not only the number of potholes but also the cost to repair them. If as an industry we can reverse this decline, we will be stopping far more potholes from forming in the first place.”

According to the latest RSTA research – RSTA Carbon Emission for Road Surface and Other Maintenance Treatments Report and Guidance – launched earlier this year, surface dressing was confirmed as one of the most carbon efficient surface treatment solution available to highway asset managers.
Surface Dressing uses up to 75% less bitumen and up to 80% less aggregate per square metre than thin surface (asphalt) courses.

“The fact is that surface treatments, used to protect and preserve the road network for longer, are cheaper to use and significantly lower in carbon,” Mr Boss added.


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