Personal injury lawyer and Director of Macks Solicitors, Anthony McCarthy, discusses one of the perils of the winter months – potholes.

The Problem with Potholes

This is the season of goodwill. It’s a time for celebration and making merry.

There are, however, some downsides to the festive season. Drunken behaviour increases as do the length of queues in shops. There is another menace which has become all too prevalent during the winter months which is the problem of potholes.

The blight of potholes on our roads has caused misery to drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and highway authorities up and down the land.

It is estimated that around £750 million of damage was caused to cars last year by the 200,000 or so potholes in the United Kingdom.

As well as causing damage to cars, potholes can also cause injury to pedestrians who trip over them and cyclists who come off their bikes because of them.

The repair of potholes has become a surprisingly hot political issue. A poll by the AA found that 91% of people would back a political party that promised to fix potholes compared to 85% who would back a party that would cut fuel duty. The damage caused by potholes has certainly had an impact on the general public.

What causes winter potholes?

Winter potholes happen when snow and ice melt in seasonal freeze-thaw cycles. When the snow and ice thaws it seeps into the roads through cracks. When the temperatures drop, and the water freezes again, it turns into ice and expands causing the road to rise. The continuing freezing and thawing process weakens the underlying structure of the road and this, together with the weight of traffic which continues to disturb the area, creates the potholes.

Once a pothole starts to form then it can quickly become a lot bigger as the traffic disturbs the pothole and deepens it.

The problem with potholes is difficult to solve because simply patching the pothole with tarmac will not result in a long-term fix. It is very likely that such a remedy would only last for a short period of time.

The increase in potholes has led to damage to wheels, bodywork and suspension of cars and has also led to tripping accident claims which can vary from sprained ankles to more serious fractures of upper limbs and even head injuries.

A possible solution?

In light of the problem caused by potholes there is some welcome news from the Department of Transport. They have announced that £260 million will be spent on fixing potholes around the North East between 2015 and 2021. It is estimated that around 800,000 could be fixed as a result of this investment.

It is unfortunate that the North East will, reportedly, take the least amount of money of the total pot given by the Department of Transport because the allocation is based on road usage. This means that other areas of the UK with larger and busier highway networks will receive more funding.

This additional funding for pothole repairs is very welcome particularly given that, in these times of austerity, funding to local government overall has been reduced dramatically.

It is hoped that the extra money will allow fundamental weakness in the road surface to be addressed so that a more long-term solution can be found to the pothole problem.

Until then road users and pedestrians are advised to be vigilant, to report potholes that are a danger and to take photographs of a pothole, with the dimensions of it shown in the photographs, if it happens to result in damage to your car or bicycle or causes you injury.

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