Potholes - Know Your Rights and Responsibilities

Every 15th of January, the UK observes National Pothole Day as a way to highlight the persistent problem of potholes on roads. But who is responsible for potholes getting repaired in the UK? 

Why are potholes dangerous?

Potholes are not just a minor annoyance. They can cause damage to vehicles and even increase the risk of accidents for road users. When drivers hit a pothole, they might not react instantly and lose control of their car. Pedestrians accidentally walking into a pothole might trip, fall, and sustain injuries.

Potholes can be dangerous, particularly for cyclists and motorcyclists,  and should be addressed immediately. It's sad to say that in the UK today, responses to road repairs are not always fast. But it’s a good thing there are steps we can take to help fix this problem. We all have a part to play in reporting them, so let’s look at our rights and responsibilities regarding potholes. 

What does the UK law say about potholes?

In the UK, we have a law covering potholes (no pun intended) and other issues on road maintenance. Section 58 of the Highways Act of 1980 describes the legal responsibilities of road owners to ensure that the roads under their authority are safe for drivers, pedestrians, and other road users to avoid untoward incidents such as injury or damage to property. The road owners are usually the local councils and highway agencies referred to as the “Authorities.” 

Can I file a claim if a pothole caused damage to my car?

The Authorities are required to have a working system that ensures regular inspection of roads and a swift response to any repair necessary. If a pothole causes damage to a vehicle, for example, the owner may file a claim. However, the law also provides a statutory defence for the Authorities. This defence states that if the Authorities have taken reasonable measures to address the potholes, the claim may be rejected. The car owner would need to prove that the Authorities have not followed the standard system for road maintenance. For example, local councils need to adhere to a set of guidelines to keep highways well-maintained. 

What do I do before filing a claim for compensation?

To be successful with a claim, you need to have proof that the Authorities did not take action and address the potholes in a timely manner. You may start by taking photos of the pothole so that its location on the road may be determined. For example, is the pothole around the edge of the road or along the wheel tracks? The photo should be able to show that.

The location of the pothole and road must also be specified. You may use Google Earth for this step. You also need to measure the width and depth of the pothole. Remember to take photos of the damage to your car as well. When arranging for repair work on your car, shop around first and get quotes from service providers. You will need the quotes when you claim compensation for the damage to the car. 

Can the Authorities refuse my claim for compensation?

Yes. The Authorities may refuse your claim, so you need to be prepared and have all the pieces of evidence you can use to argue your case. To start, file your claim to the relevant highway agency or local council by sending a detailed letter, along with your pieces of evidence, quotes for repair work, and an invoice to rectify the damage to your vehicle.

If the road owners had knowledge of the potholes but did not take the necessary steps to address them, they are required to accept your claim. However, if they did not know about it, they may not be held liable. Therefore, it is important to have a strong set of evidence so you can argue that the Authorities failed to repair the road and keep it safe for road users.   

What to do if my claim for compensation is rejected?

You have the right to make an appeal if your claim is rejected. You may write back to the highway authority or local council and ask for the details of the area’s road inspection policy. This is a crucial step to determine if you should take legal action or not. Road owners are required to have a system to inspect roads regularly and make repairs whenever necessary.

This system outlines the frequency of road inspections, the timeframe for repairs, and even what size a pothole has to be before road repairs take place. Once you have this information, you need to study it and see if the Authorities were indeed negligent in their responsibility to ensure road maintenance and safety. 

Is it worth taking legal action over pothole damage?

If you think you have sufficient proof against the road owner, you may go to a local solicitor who can handle the claim on your behalf and take legal steps against the Authorities. You can also make a claim yourself through the Small Claims Court, which is easy to do online these days. Bear in mind, though, that this will cost money, and depending on the extent of damage to your car, it might not even be worth it. What you can do instead is file a claim with your car insurance provider

More Funding for Potholes - Spring Budget 2023

There has been some good news for drivers in the Spring 2023 Budget - Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has promised a further £200m to help tackle the pothole pandemic. Councils will receive extra funding to address the issue on local roads (did you know that 15% of unclassified roads are classified as "red" and 25% of A and B roads are also in need of repair?). Both the AA and RAC are on record as saying that they welcome the news of additional funding.

Final Thoughts

Potholes can be dangerous, so even if your car wasn’t damaged, please report any potholes to the relevant Authorities. If the road was a county, town, or city road, get in touch with the local council. If the pothole was in a motorway or an A road, contact Highways England, Transport Scotland, Traffic Wales, or Department for Infrastructure if it’s a road in Northern Ireland. 👍