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FOLLOWING publication of the latest Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance Survey (ALARM) this week (20 March), personal injury lawyer at Roythornes Solicitors Rob Dempsey discusses how this year’s figures measure up against 2017

and what this means for local authorities.

If one was to analyse the findings from ALARM 2017, it could arguably be summarised as ’prevention being better than a cure’, with the statistics revealing that reactive maintenance work on our roads is costing local authorities a staggering twenty times more than that which has been pre-planned as  preventative maintenance. Unsurprisingly, this is still the case.

This year’s report, however, perhaps indicates a more worrying trend: despite the road conditions worsening, councils appear less inclined to intervene in repairing potholes at all, despite being reported to them.

In comparison to 2017, when it was estimated one in six local roads would need repair within the next five years, the figure now stands as one in five. Naturally, this suggests an increased need to repair potholes but, as we can see, repairs are generally decreasing. 

In 2017-2018, around 1.5 million potholes were filled in the UK, a decrease of more than 200,000 on the previous year and represents an average drop of over 1,000 potholes filled per local authority. This is clearly not because roads are improving, but because local authorities are pushing the argument as to when they feel repairs should be carried out.

Not only does this create a headache for our nation’s drivers, but this can have obvious ramifications for victims of personal injury. Since 2007, defective road surfaces have contributed to 22 cyclist deaths and 368 serious injuries.

Under the 1980 Highways Act, local authorities have a responsibility to maintain the highway so that it is free of danger to road users. A standard defence to injury claims is for the local authority to say it repairs the potholes once they are reported or even to argue the pothole does not represent a danger in the first instance.

A perfect example of this latter argument can be seen during a case against Essex County Council which recently settled at trial, wherein my colleague Lynda Thompson acted for the victim of a personal injury claim after he was thrown from his moped when the front wheel hit two large potholes. The council accepted the potholes were reported to them just 19 days before the incident but argued the pothole was not serious enough to warrant repair. The court did not accept the argument and our client was compensated for his injuries and losses.

Increased arguments by local authorities that potholes are not ‘dangerous’ and their subsequent failure to repair are, in my opinion, counter-productive. In this case alone, the cost of filling in two potholes would have been around £150, but instead of undertaking the preventative measure of repairing them, the council was required to compensate the claimant significantly more – and repair the pothole, which should have resolved this issue in the first place.

It seems the message from last year has yet to hit home with local authorities and the current spending on roads maintenance is, according to the Asphalt Industry Alliance, “way short” of the amount needed. As it stands, 40,000 miles of carriageways in England and Wales have less than five years of life remaining before they become unusable, and with this figure only set to rise, it is clear that a new approach to combat potholes is needed in order to alleviate this growing risk to both cyclists and motorists on our roads.

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