Potholes – Driving you round the bend?

by Carly Philp

Last night the Tonight Show looked at the chaos which is being caused on Britain's roads due to 'record levels' of potholes.

The Tonight show survey found that 75% of people feel potholes have increased over the past 2 years; 40% had suffered vehicle damage due to potholes, and 50% of cyclists who’d hit a pothole were injured as a result.

The Tonight show’s freedom of information requests revealed that 151 councils received over 700,000 complaints last year and that, in 2017, £3.5million was paid out to road users for damage and injury caused by potholes.

A family was interviewed about the death of their father who had suffered a head injury after coming off his bike from hitting a pothole.  Legal action is being taken against the council in question as numerous complaints had been made about the state of the road in that area before this accident happened.   

Two more cyclists were spoken to about the accidents they had had at the same spot within a week of one another.  One had suffered a broken collarbone, broken ribs and injuries to his hands and knees.  The other had suffered heart problems requiring 2 operations.   The particular stretch of road had apparently been inspected shortly before the first accident and no ‘urgently actionable’ potholes had been identified.

It was said that Government expects any defects of 40mm or deeper to be ‘investigated’.  Previously, the rule was that any defect of 40mm or deeper should be ‘repaired’.  To put his in context, 40mm or deeper is about the size of 2 x 20pence pieces.

From a legal point of view: 

The law imposes a duty of care on all occupiers to ensure that their premises are reasonably safe for visitors.  The presence of a

pothole causing injury on private property would, more than likely, breach this duty of care.  However, there is a special defence available to local authorities in similar circumstances.  The key issue will be whether the council had a reasonable system of inspection and maintenance.  Highways inevitably deteriorate: all that the council is obliged to do is carry out adequate inspections and, where appropriate, repairs at reasonable intervals.

If the council raise this special defence in your case, it is important you seek legal advice.  It may be possible to argue that the inspections were deficient in some way or that the frequency of inspections was inadequate. 

Potholes may be a nuisance when they wreck your tyres or ruin your suspensions, but they can be very dangerous, particularly for cyclists, and particularly during this recent bad weather.  It is so hard to know how deep a pothole is when it is full of water or snow.