A new analysis of the different times taken by councils to repair potholes has underlined the need for a national pothole definition. The analysis raises the question of when is a pothole not a pothole and if it is a pothole when is it large enough to warrant repair?

The analysis, undertaken by the RAC Foundation, found that Cumbria, Flintshire and South Lanarkshire councils aim to act ‘immediately’ to repair potholes that pose the greatest risk to the state of the road and the safety of drivers and riders. However, Coventry City Council’s stated policy is to aim to intervene within five days.

Between the two extremes, Harrow Council sets a target repair time of half an hour, while a further 16 councils aim to patch things up within an hour, and five within 90 minutes. The most common response time to the most urgent problems is two hours, with 79 councils looking to patch up the road within this timescale.

The analysis was based on Freedom of Information data from 190 of the 207 local highway authorities in Britain.

The significantly different response times taken by local authorities to repair potholes underlines calls from the Road Surface Treatments Association (RSTA) for a national statutory standard definition of what comprises a pothole. “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 Mike Harper, RSTA chief executive. Under the Road Traffic Act 1980 local authorities have a duty of care to properly maintain their road network but within the Act there is no national definition or agreement as to when a pothole is a pothole.”

The RAC Foundation found that while 37 local highway authorities said they would investigate further when a pothole was between 20-30mm deep, 26 said the depth had to be at least 50mm or more.

Harper went on to warn: “Councils taking a risk-based approach to repair the worst potholes first will be of little comfort to those cyclists dislodged by a pothole or those motorists whose vehicle is damaged by a pothole that does not meet the risk criteria of the individual council. We need a national definition of at what depth and width a defect is recognised as being a pothole. This would enable a consistent road maintenance risk assessment, intervention and repair approach.”