A pothole lot of trouble

  • Potholes are a major problem as Britain's roads deteriorate faster than they are repaired
  • Many local authorities are simply reacting to insurance claims and maintenance
  • Taking a proactive, progressive approach instead can cut claims and costs

Potholes don’t just catch out unwary motorists – poorly maintained roads also have the potential to cause serious financial and political damage to local authorities if they fail to get a grip of their risk management.

Across the country, drivers and cyclists are becoming frustrated by the dangerous state of our highways, as surfaces deteriorate faster than they can be repaired at current funding levels, according to the Asphalt Industry Alliance.

A 2012 survey estimated that there were 1.5 million potholes in the UK, a figure that is unlikely to have decreased significantly in recent years as budgets continue to fall.

In addition, angry road users are now much more likely to seek legal redress when they hit a pothole and an accident happens, with claims up by 79% on 2012 levels, according to Zurich Municipal.

Faced with this challenge, many local authorities, already struggling with government cuts, now find themselves on the back foot, trying to simultaneously find the money to pay compensation and fund vital repair work, with some even digging into their repair budget to pay claims. But getting stuck in a reactionary position like this is a trap as dangerous as any pothole.

Financial situation unlikely to improve

With austerity set to continue well beyond the next election and recent research suggesting that extreme weather events such as the 2010 freeze and floods in 2014 are becoming more likely, the situation is unlikely to improve.

Experts believe that it is essential for local authorities to get ahead of the situation now and develop a progressive approach to the problem.

Even if the upfront costs of taking a preventative strategy seem higher, the long-term benefits are clear. For example, between May 2009 and May 2014 Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council worked proactively with contractors to improve the way they were dealing with potholes.

By carefully analysing both the state of their roads and the way potholes were currently being repaired, the council managed to improve their risk management and working practices to the extent that they not only reduced insurance claims by 40% – and saved £220,000 per year – but also cut asphalt waste by half and ensured all holes were fixed on the first repair.

Insurers such as Zurich Municipal can offer vital advice on how local authorities can improve their risk management, better deal with budget pressures and streamline their maintenance programmes, through training, recording and more effective relationships with contractors.

Simple changes, such as improving the data available on problems and taking a considered, risk-based approach – rather than reacting to political and media pressure – can have a huge impact on costs overall.

By taking a smarter approach to risk, local authorities can ensure that we all find the road ahead a safer place.