According to the 2018 Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) Survey, the state of our roads is getting worse. The report states that the cumulative effect of an ageing network, decades of underfunding, increased traffic and wetter winters has led to around 12% of all local roads reported as being in poor structural condition, with less than a years' life remaining.
The amount needed to bring local roads up to scratch exceeds £9 billion. However, it’s not only about the amount of money bad roads will cost to repair; each time a car is damaged by a broken road surface it hits a driver in the pocket. Mechanical breakdown insurance provider, Warranty Direct, estimates that a repair for pothole damage costs an average of £350, and sometimes much more. So, here we look at what should be done to fix the problem, and how you can claim compensation if your car is damaged by a shoddy road.
Local authorities have a legal obligation to demonstrate "reasonable care" in the maintenance of roads, under the Highways Act 1980. So it's important that you report potholes to your local authority because it will then have to fix them.
What can be done to fix the problem?
More money would help, and it is on the way. The Government has added an extra £100 million to the funds available for local councils to fix our roads. In addition, the Road Investment Strategy promises to invest £15 billion in more than 100 major road building schemes between 2015 and 2020 and the Government has also pledged £6 billion for the maintenance and repair of local roads between 2015 and 2021.
However, the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) is concerned that there’s an imbalance between the investment in new roads, motorways and other major routes and local authorities’ road budgets.
"Local roads make up 98% of the network and carry two-thirds of the traffic," says a spokesperson. "Yet the amount local authorities will get from the Government’s capital funding programme is vastly lower than the amount Highways England will get for the strategic roads network."
Whatever the split in the roads budget between major routes and roads maintained by local councils, spending the available cash wisely is key. That means less firefighting, and more planning. The AIA describes this as an "invest to save" approach that authorities can put into practice with an asset management plan.
"This identifies roads that are falling apart and makes them the priority. It doesn’t make any difference whether the road is heavily trafficked or runs past the mayor’s house – it’s not political. An asset management plan is much more practical than just repairing the next pothole or resurfacing roads with some life left in them," it says.
Part of the problem is bad weather, in particular wet and very cold weather. If water gets into cracks in the road surface then freezes, it expands, making the cracks bigger. Repeat the process a few times and eventually small imperfections turn into potholes. So the harsher the winter, the worse the pothole problem becomes. No wonder that the fillthathole.org.uk website, run by the charity Cycling UK, reports peak traffic in the winter and spring.
The AIA is adamant there should be no blaming harsh winters or heavy rain, however. It says: "A decent, well-made road will throw back anything the British climate can throw at it. Just look at the roads in Scandinavia, which deal with more extreme weather and yet don’t break up. The reason our roads don’t cope is years and years of chronic underfunding. It’s the legacy of a lack of investment."
How to claim compensation if your car is damaged by a pothole
If your car is damaged and the local authority hasn’t cared for the road properly, you can claim compensation. Here’s how:
1. Gather evidence
As soon as possible, take photographs of the pothole. If the road isn’t too busy and it’s safe to do so, measure the width and depth of the pothole, too.
2. Make a report
Let the relevant local authority know about the pothole. You can use websites such as potholes.co.uk or fillthathole.org.uk, or contact the council responsible for the road directly. Tell them the place, road name or number, and let them have contact details of any witnesses to the damage. Send the photos and measurements you have taken, too.
3. Find out when the road was last inspected by the council
Do this by submitting a Freedom of Information request to the authority responsible for the road (most likely the local council, but major roads are the responsibility of Highways England, Transport Scotland or the Welsh Government). This evidence will be useful if your claim is rejected.
4. Make your case
Write to the local authority concerned, explaining in polite but firm terms why you think it is responsible for the damage to your car; remember it’s their legal responsibility to maintain the road network. Give full details of the incident that led to the damage, and point out any other relevant information, such as if the road has not been inspected by the council for a long time, if you have this information.
5. Be rational
If your claim is rejected, try to be objective. Does the authority have a solid defence under section 58 of the Highways Act 1980? This gives authorities the right not to pay out if they have taken reasonable measures to regularly inspect roads and repair them if necessary. If the council has followed the national code of practice then your claim may fail. If it hasn’t, however, stick to your guns.
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