RAC Pothole Index – statistics and data for UK roads

RAC Pothole Index – statistics and data for UK roads
Britain’s ‘pothole plague’ took even more of a toll on drivers in 2023 as RAC patrols attended nearly 30,000 pothole-related breakdowns over the course of the year, up by 33% compared to 2022.

The UK is thought to have more than one million potholes, with these road defects being one of the leading causes of car breakdowns. Currently, the Government has a pot of £5 billion to tackle the problem up until 2025. But what is the current state of our roads? Find out with the RAC Pothole Index. 

How many potholes are there in the UK?

Each year the RAC estimates drivers have to battle against at least one million potholes on the country’s roads, but the actual number will vary from season to season.

It is estimated that, on average, there are around six potholes per mile on council-controlled roads in England and Wales.

In 2023, data obtained through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request provided a glimpse into the scale of the UK's pothole problem.

The FOI was sent to all of England's 185 county and district councils, but only 81 provided a response. From those that provided data, there were a reported 556,658 potholes in England in the financial year of 2021/22- a figure that would be far higher if all 185 county and district councils had fulfilled the FOI request.

It's important to note that the FOI request did not including road defects within Wales, Scotland and Northen Ireland - this means the true number of potholes in the UK is likely to be two or three times higher than the 556,658 that was reported.

What's more, between 2022 and 2023, 1.4 million potholes were filled in England and Wales - down from 1.7 million the year before.

(Sources: Liberal Democrats, GOV.UK, Asphalt Industry Alliance)

Current state of UK’s pothole problem in data and statistics

Roadside patrols at the motoring services company went out to 29,377 breakdowns in 2023 – the equivalent of 80 breakdowns a day – for faults including broken suspension springs, damaged shock absorbers and distorted wheels.

Looking at the fourth quarter of 2023, drivers called the RAC out to 5,153 breakdowns caused by potholes, the highest amount for any October to December period since 2017. And, the problem is only likely to get worse in the colder months of ‘pothole season’ – January to March – when water makes its way into cracks in the road, freezes and expands, causing surfaces to deteriorate even more.

The RAC Pothole Index, which has tracked the condition of Britain’s roads since 2006, now stands at 1.70, up from 1.62 at the end of 2022. While this is nowhere near the all-time high of 3.5 recorded in Q1 2010, at 1.7 the index suggests drivers are more than one-and-a-half times as likely to experience pothole damage as they were 15 years ago.

Potholes in the UK 2024

The RAC attended 7,904 breakdowns in the first quarter of 2024 due to bad road surfaces, up 53% on the last three months of 2023, a clear sign that the UK is suffering a pothole epidemic as roads continue to crumble.

Analysis shows it’s been far from a smooth start to the year for the nation’s drivers, with pothole-related breakdown numbers up by 10% in the last 12 months from 1st April 2023 to 31st March 2024.

In this period, the RAC went out to 27,205 breakdowns, 2,299 more than the 24,906 incidents it attended between 1st April 2022 and 31st March 2023.

But the RAC believes drivers may have actually ‘dodged the pothole bullet’ in what is normally the worst three months of the year for them. Milder weather led to patrol call-out rates dropping by 22% from 10,076 last year to 7,094 in 2024.

During the winter months, sub-zero temperatures normally cause more surface deterioration as water gets into cracks in the road, freezes and expands. In the first three months of 2024, while there was an average of 121mm of rain – 22% more than normal – the milder weather meant there were only seven days of frost, against the usual average of nine. This potentially limited the number of brand new potholes forming.

RAC head of policy Simon Williams said: “While our data shows pothole damage to vehicles in the first three months of this year is lower than it was in the same period in 2023, it’s important not to lose sight of the bigger picture and the ongoing miserable state of our roads. The analysis clearly shows drivers are now twice as likely to suffer a breakdown due to sub-standard road surfaces as they were in 2006.

“While many would rightly say the roads are terrible, we believe they would have been far worse had we not had such a mild winter. We feel drivers have dodged the pothole bullet as the lack of widespread sub-zero temperatures has masked the true state of our roads.

“After all, all the cracks left by years of declining road maintenance budgets can’t easily be filled. Even though the Government has given councils an additional £8.3bn for road maintenance from the cancellation of the northern leg of HS2, we know this is only enough to resurface 5,000 miles of roads – the equivalent of just 3% of all England’s local roads.

“To make the most of this funding, we implore local authorities to focus their efforts on resurfacing the worst roads in their areas rather than pointlessly trying to patch pothole-ridden roads that can’t be saved from further decline. And now is the time for preventative action to be taken, as it’s between the warmer months of April and September when vital surface dressing work can be carried out to extend the life of roads. Sadly, government data we analysed shows 60% of English councils didn’t do any such work in the 2022-2023 financial year.

“Drivers frustrated by the UK’s pothole epidemic can highlight the problem by downloading and using Stan, a new free mobile app capable of automatically detecting road defects via a smartphone camera mounted in a cradle. The data is helping build the UK’s first ever national map of road surface issues. The RAC is urging local authorities to use the data to locate problems on their networks and carry out repairs quickly and efficiently.”

Pothole-related breakdowns – in numbers

To 30 September 20182020202120222023
Total pothole-related breakdowns21,72531,14622,09529,377
Pothole share of all RAC breakdowns0.9%1.5%0.9%0.8%
RAC Pothole Index at end of year – likelihood of drivers breaking down compared to 2006, ie 2.0 = twice as likely1.441.631.601.69

Why are they called potholes?

Historians have established that the term ‘pothole’ comes from the age of the Roman Empire.

Potters who couldn’t afford clay would often steal it from the Roman roads as they were built on top of a heavy layer of clay – causing deep holes in the road surface.

Although the meaning and attribution to its popularity in English vernacular has evolved over time, it has always led back to the description of a crack, imperfection or hole on a road or walkway.

The name ‘pothole’ is used because these road surface depressions often resemble small craters or holes, similar to the shape of a pot or container. However, their shape can vary quite a lot.

What causes potholes?

Potholes typically occur when the road surface deteriorates due to various factors such as temperature changes, water seepage, and repeated traffic impact.

The combination of these factors weakens the road surface, leading to the formation of these depressions or holes.

They can vary in size and depth, ranging from small divots to larger craters that can pose a risk to vehicles and pedestrians. They are a common road maintenance issue and can be found in many parts of the world, not just in the UK.

Potholes are primarily caused by a combination of several factors, including:

  1. Freezing and thaw cycles: In regions with colder climates, water can seep into cracks and pores in the road surface. When this water freezes, it expands, exerting pressure on the surrounding road and causing it to crack. When the ice melts, it leaves behind gaps and voids, weakening the road structure and leading to the formation of potholes. This is a common issue in the UK.
  2. Heavy traffic and vehicle loads: Repeated traffic, especially from heavy vehicles, can accelerate the deterioration of road surfaces. The constant weight and impact of vehicles can weaken the road, causing cracks to form. Over time, these cracks can develop into potholes. Over the last decade, there has been a drastic increase in traffic – and in the size of vehicles people are driving.
  3. Water damage: Water is a major contributor to pothole formation. It can infiltrate the road structure through cracks or poorly sealed joints. The presence of water weakens the underlying layers, causing the road surface to lose its structural integrity and resulting in pothole development.
  4. Age and wear: Over time, road surfaces naturally degrade. The constant exposure to traffic, weather elements, and environmental factors gradually erodes the road materials. As the road becomes more worn and brittle, it is more susceptible to cracking and the eventual formation of potholes. All roads should be updated and kept in working condition – however, this is where a lot of the problems in the UK stem from.
  5. Poor construction or maintenance: Inadequate road construction practices, improper compaction of materials, or insufficient maintenance can contribute to the formation of potholes. If roads are not built to withstand the stresses they encounter or if maintenance activities are neglected, it can accelerate the deterioration process.
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Why does the UK have so many potholes?

The UK’s wet and cold climate makes its roads susceptible to potholes. The UK’s high traffic levels also increase road wear, which means the roads are more likely to become cracked or damaged. Most of the UK’s potholes form in the winter months, with water seeping into the road via small cracks which form a pothole when it freezes and forces the road surface to break up. 

Where are the most potholes in the UK?

Cities and urban areas with heavy traffic tend to experience more wear and tear on their road infrastructure, making them more prone to potholes. Areas with significant urban centres like London, Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, and Glasgow may have a higher occurrence of potholes due to the increased traffic density.

Regions that experience severe weather conditions, such as heavy rainfall or freezing temperatures, are more susceptible to the formation of potholes. This is particularly true in areas of the UK that have colder climates, such as Scotland, northern England, and the northern parts of Wales.

Adding to this, roads in rural or less densely populated areas may receive less frequent maintenance and repairs compared to major highways and urban roads. These can often be in the colder areas of the country.

It's important to note that the situation can change over time as road maintenance efforts and infrastructure investments are made. Local authorities and highway agencies are instructed by the Government to address potholes and improve road conditions across the UK.

However, the data requested through the FOI showed the councils that are the worst impacted by potholes.

Derbyshire had the most potholes per region, with 90,596 – followed by Lancashire (67,439) and Northumberland (51,703).

The area with the longest average time to fix individual holes was Stoke-on-Trent, with a massive 657 days. This was followed by Westminster (556 days) and Norfolk (482 days).

(Source: FOI by the Liberal Democrats)

How much does the Government spend each year on potholes?

From 2020 to 2025, the Government has pledged to invest £5 billion into road and highway maintenance.

Every year, the UK government allocates significant extra funding for addressing potholes and road maintenance.

This is usually announced during the Spring or Autumn Budget by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

However, the specific annual budget dedicated exclusively to pothole repairs may vary each year and is subject to change based on government priorities and budgetary allocations.

In the most recent Spring Budget, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt increased the funding available to deal with the ‘curse of potholes’ each year to £700 million.

Additionally, local authorities receive funding through the various schemes for local road maintenance, including pothole repairs.

It's important to note that these figures and funding initiatives are subject to change with each new budget cycle or government announcement.

How likely are you to suffer a breakdown due to a pothole?

The likelihood of a vehicle breaking down due to a pothole depends on various factors, including the severity of the pothole, the speed and angle at which the vehicle hits it, the condition of the vehicle, and the type of road surface.

As the chart below highlights, RAC Pothole Index data shows that UK drivers are 1.7 times more likely to break down as a result of a pothole today than they were in 2006, when data was first collected (as of October 2023).

While smaller potholes may not cause significant damage, larger or deeper potholes can pose a greater risk.

However, hitting many smaller potholes over time can impact your vehicle in a negative way.

Some potential issues that can arise from hitting a pothole include:

  1. Tyre damage: Potholes can cause punctures, sidewall bulges, or tyre blowouts if the impact is severe enough.
  2. Wheel and suspension damage: Hitting a pothole with force can result in bent or cracked wheels, misalignment, or damage to suspension components, such as shocks, struts, or control arms.
  3. Steering system problems: The impact of a pothole can affect the steering system, leading to misalignment, steering wheel vibration, or difficulty in steering.
  4. Exhaust or undercarriage damage: Particularly deep potholes may cause the underside of the vehicle to hit the road surface, resulting in damage to the exhaust system, oil pan, or other components.
  5. Losing control of the vehicle: A cause for many accidents can be attributed to the impact of a driver travelling over a pothole. They are a hazard to all road users.

According to RAC data, it is advisable to exercise caution and try to avoid potholes whenever possible and regular vehicle maintenance can also help identify any issues that may arise from pothole impacts.

If you encounter a pothole while driving, it is recommended to slow down and cautiously navigate around it if it is safe to do so. If you suspect any damage to your vehicle after hitting a pothole, it is advisable to have it inspected by a qualified mechanic to address any potential issues.

You can also report a pothole quickly and easily from the RAC website.

When looking at RAC data, it can be summarised that although pothole-related breakdowns have fallen over the last decade, they have risen since pre-pandemic levels.

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UK potholes map 2024

The RAC is working with Metricell, developers of the Stan mobile app, to build a picture of the quality of roads across the country. 

 

How much does it cost to repair a car after hitting a pothole?

Pothole repairs can be costly for drivers. RAC garage data from December 2023 shows that for anything more serious than a puncture, drivers can expect to have to pay up to £460 if their car needs to go to a garage after hitting a pothole.

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The RAC Guide to the Great British Pothole and Other Road Surface Defects

Potholes are a menace to all road users. They create a totally unnecessary road safety danger as well as costing motorists thousands of pounds in expensive repairs.

Different types of potholes

The Great British Pothole

Classic pothole in the road

Sometimes also referred to as The Classic. Sadly needs no introduction. More common in town centres than pigeons.

Encountered in varying depths and sizes, causing all kinds of damage and dangers. Needs repairing as soon as it becomes dangerous, but would benefit from a ‘permanent fix’ as opposed to the customary ‘patch and dash’.

The Alcatraz

Pothole in the road looking like an island

There’s no escaping this one. A pothole, or cluster of potholes, that are extremely difficult to avoid due to their size, location or number.

The damage one of these could cause to a vehicle may not be criminal, but it surely must come close. And the thought of someone on two wheels hitting one is beyond frightening.

Report a pothole and claim for damage here

The Slalom

Pothole in the road like a slalom

The collective name for a group, or groups, of potholes that have somehow escaped the attention of those that are supposed to carry out regular checks of our roads.

Leaves motorists with little choice but to attempt to steer their way through in their own Winter Olympics-type challenge.

Do not pass ‘Go’, spend £200: head straight to the garage for some new shock absorbers or maybe a new suspension spring or two.

The Sniper

pothole-in-the-road-sniper

Lurking just out of sight, this one will get you when you least expect it. Of varying depths and widths this is a pothole that is hard to spot which is normally found right in the path of your wheels.

Hitting one of these at speed will cause a sudden jolt that does your wheels and suspension parts no good whatsoever.

Other road surface defects

The Alligator

pothole-in-the-road-alligator

It might not have teeth yet, but you won’t have to wait long.

These are no longer just found in Florida: sadly a plethora of crazy crack patterns just like an alligator’s skin are there for all to see on Britain’s roads – no need to book a wildlife trip.

What’s more, they tend not to be a priority for fixing … in other words: they’ll fix in it 'in a while crocodile'.

The Canyon

pothole in the road Canyon

Grand it isn’t! When construction joints open up, chasms are created. Water gets in making matters worse until a river runs through it … and wheels fall into it. Bad news for drivers and vehicles, but a complete nightmare for two-wheelers.

The Fade to Grey

Faded road signs

Camouflage is best used by the army and a faded zebra crossing is no longer a black and white issue.

Road markings you can’t read or see are an all-too-common sight, or perhaps that’s not quite the right way of putting it. Whatever the case: they are as much use to road users as the proverbial chocolate teapot.

The Great Beyond

Big pothole

The edge of the road starts to fall away leaving less and less to drive on. And in the words of the REM song of the same name, this can easily lead to cyclists ‘crashing to the ground’. Unfortunately, councils generally have nothing up their sleeves to sort this out unless it poses a real hazard to road users.

The Groundhog

Pothole patch and dash repairs

You don’t have to go to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to find one of these, you can find plenty right here in good old Blighty.

Borne of the ‘patch and dash’ approach to road maintenance this one recurs more often than Bill Murray’s day or a bad case of heartburn.

If only they’d fixed it properly the first time round, there wouldn’t be so ‘many unhappy returns’.

The Harbinger

pothole road cracking

The sign of things to come. General cracking that will soon bring doom and gloom to drivers as water gets into the cracks, freezes and expands, further breaking up the road surface.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, not usually prioritised for urgent repair.

The Iron Maiden

pothole iron covers

You might spot a number of these beasts. They’re cracks or holes that emerge from iron covers or grates in the road surface. Often not prioritised for repair, but try explaining that to a cyclist.

The Little Devil

Utility works repairs

A little ‘difference in level’ might not seem like a big thing, but these tricky customers can be demon-like for unwitting vulnerable road users who encounter them.

They often occur where repairs to the road surface sink after utility works, leaving treacherous edges that can cause loss of vehicle control or send a cyclist tumbling.

The Moonscape

Uneven road

An uneven, out of this world, sunken road surface consisting of humps, bumps and craters. Often the result of poor workmanship or the use of poor materials. Very uncomfortable to drive over and at its worst could give passengers all the effects of whiplash without the crash.

The Patchwork Quilt

Patchwork potholes

Not as visually appealing as something you put on a bed, the road version is a hotchpotch of unpleasantness.

General deterioration and a proliferation of poor repairs makes negotiating one of these a real challenge for driver and car, let alone anyone on two wheels. It’s time to get the big road surfacing machine out.

The Pebbledasher

Loose gravel

You may hear this before you see it. A crumbling road surface beneath your tyres causes bits of asphalt to fly up against the underside of your vehicle, or worse still against its paintwork.

Often found hiding along colder routes at the mercy of the elements, these stretches of road could single-handedly keep bodywork specialists doing overtime for years to come.

The Rumblestiltskin

Potholes

Unfortunately not a fairy tale, but grim nevertheless. General wear that turns roads into rumble strips designed to stop drivers straying from the carriageway rather than smooth surfaces for driving. Bet you don’t see these in Germany.

The Rutger Howler

Road dip

A long depression in the road surface that is truly depressing. Get your wheels stuck in one of these and you’ll know about it from both the noise and the steering difficulties. Can lead to water ‘ponding’ effects. Pretty … appalling.

The Unwisecrack

Crack in road

Not the least bit funny, but definitely cutting. First appearing as a little crack in an otherwise smooth road surface, it could easily be the sign of something far worse: a landslip where the carriageway literally crumbles away into a rock face.

The Windermere

Water on road

It’s a low point for every motorist when low spots in the road pool water forcing drivers to change course, possibly into danger.

We all love the Lake District, but standing water and roads really don’t mix. Roads should be for driving, not sailing.

Recent rises in pothole-related breakdowns