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RAC concerned by continuing pothole problems despite reduced traffic levels

Date: 18 January 2021   |   Author: Sean Keywood

Lower traffic levels did not lead to an improvement in the condition of UK roads at the end of 2020, according to RAC statistics.

The organisation says that 0.9% of its breakdown patrol calls during the final three-months of the year were to pothole-related issues.

Although this was down on the previous quarter, it was identical to the same period in 2019, and slightly higher than in 2018.

According to the RAC, this is a matter of concern, since the lower traffic levels brought about by the coronavirus pandemic should have meant less damage being caused to road surfaces.

However, the organisation does report a more positive outlook from its Pothole Index research, which indicates that the overall standard of road surfaces has been improving since the start of 2019.

RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes said: "As if 2020 wasn't bad enough for other reasons, nearly 1,500 of our members have also had to endure unwanted, and no doubt expensive, damage to their vehicles caused by potholes and other road surface defects.

"While the actual number of pothole-related call-outs our patrols have attended is down significantly compared to the same time in 2019 due to lower traffic volumes in the pandemic, they account for the same proportion of all RAC rescues which clearly demonstrates there are still far too many poorly maintained roads.

"We realise council budgets are under incredible pressure due to the coronavirus, but we badly need the government to recognise the significance of local roads and take a fresh look at how to fund them."

Lyes said that the government's approach of allocating funding to councils from various pots on an annual basis meant that authorities were always having to play catch-up by fixing potholes rather than focusing on preventative maintenance.

He continued: "We would prefer to see them make five-year funding settlements which would allow councils to make longer-term plans for their roads. This could be funded by introducing a similar scheme to the National Roads Fund which ringfences money paid in vehicle excise duty by road users in England for the upkeep of major roads.  

"The RAC Pothole Index clearly shows that the long-term degradation of road surfaces, which began in 2008, has now - to some extent - been arrested, but nevertheless overall road conditions are precariously balanced on a knife-edge. 

"The fact the country is experiencing a colder winter than it has done for several years, coupled with the risk of less investment in local road maintenance due the pandemic, means that the delicate balance may sadly end up tipping in the wrong direction."