The rise in number of cyclists being injured by accidents caused by deteriorating road surfaces underlines calls for a national statutory standard definition of what comprises a pothole.
The Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) has warned that without such a standard, cash-strapped local authorities may move the goal posts in order to save money by not repairing smaller potholes.
New figures from the Department for Transport show that almost 100 cyclists a year are involved in incidents in which “poor or defective” roads were a factor. Lawyers acting on behalf of accident victims report that many councils only fixed potholes that were deeper than 4cm, despite the risk of accidents resulting from shallower defects. North Yorkshire county council recently rejected a cyclist’s compensation claim following a pothole-related accident after producing documents showing that the road was inspected a week before and that “no defects” were found. Lawyers acting for the claimant reported that because the pothole was only 3cm deep the council’s response was that it “did not consider that the defect which caused your accident is dangerous”.
Although there is widespread adoption of the ‘Well-Managed Highway Infrastructure Code of Practice’ (previously called Well Maintained Highways) this only offers guidance as to best practice. It does not provide a national definition of potholes. As a result there are differing approaches throughout the UK. In Gloucestershire, a road surface defect becomes a pothole if it is 4cm deep and 30cm wide. Neighbouring Worcestershire has the same depth criteria of 40mm but a smaller dimension of 20cm. In Bath, a smaller depth of 3cm is accepted as being a pothole. However, in Hounslow, London, a pothole will only be repaired urgently if it reaches a depth of 7.5cm. In Warwickshire, a pothole of up to 5cm deep is not considered to be hazardous and will only be repaired as part of routine maintenance six months after being reported. By contrast, Herefordshire County Council “aims to record and treat all potholes regardless of depth”.
“The lack of a national pothole definition means that we have a postcode lottery of road repair as different local authorities take different approaches. There is no consistency,” said Howard Robinson, RSTA chief executive. “Local highway authorities are under immense financial pressure. However, under the Road Traffic Act 1980 they have a duty of care to properly maintain their road network but there is no national definition or agreement as to when a pothole is a pothole.”
He continued: “The government must recognise its responsibility to provide the necessary levels of funding to enable local authorities to fulfill their responsibilities to provide a safe and well-maintained road network”.