The winter season has over the years become synonymous with the pothole season as it is usually the time when most pothole cases are reported; however, the overall problem is getting worse as the seasonality becomes less typical—Irish and UK roads can be affected by potholes at any time of the year.
In the UK alone, the RAC was called out to 4,091 pothole-related breakdowns between April and June 2018, compared to 3,565 cases reported in the previous year. Since 2015, according to research carried out by The Insurance Emporium, almost one million potholes a year have been reported to local authorities. The same company submitted Freedom of Information requests to 205 local authorities and found the highest number in a year was 1,088,965 in 2016, with Edinburgh Council holding the dubious title of the UK’s pothole capital at 73 potholes per km of road on average from January 2015 to April 2018.
The factors that create potholes are basically moisture and cold temperatures—water gets into cracks, freezes, expands and breaks up the surface of the road. If the road surface is already substandard, the whole situation is exacerbated by winter conditions.
The risks brought by potholes are serious in terms of safety and vehicle damage. It has been estimated that potholes could cost over £400/€458 on average for a van while one in ten pothole damage repair bills exceeded £1000/€1145. The expense can be claimed on insurance if the damage is caused by pothole strikes, though two out of three van owners prefer to pay it themselves and in order not to see their premium increase.
According to the words of a UK Department for Transport spokesman, "Potholes are a huge problem for all road users and the government is taking action, providing local authorities with more than £6.5bn for roads maintenance and pothole repair in the six years to 2021." The UK government is in fact investing £900,000 in schemes to allow councils to better manage and plan maintenance works.
If it is true that potholes are an ongoing problem that appears to have become inexplicably worse of late, it is also true to say that that the problem isn’t new; in fact The Times ran a piece on the issue as far back as 1910. Things have gotten worse from time to time prompting a need for innovative solutions. A Radio 4 investigation into potholes recently hosted Dr Mujib Rahman, a former road-repair engineer who has become popular in Britain as a “pothole doctor”. Rahman has demonstrated that using infrared preheating improves the bond between the road and the repair, reducing the need for re-repairs. And in keeping with high tech solutions to the perennial problem, an ambitious project by the School of Mechanical Engineering at Leeds University, managed by Professor Phil Purnell, is looking into developing reconnaissance drones to detect early signs of trouble and apply preventative maintenance to reduce the expansion of potholes.