Does Breakdown Data Show UK Roads Are Improving?

New breakdown data published by the RAC could show that the condition of roads in the UK is improving 

A Pothole in London

The RAC has published data relating to the breakdowns it has attended in the first three months of 2024, and it shows a significant increase in the number of pothole-related callouts.

The RAC says it has attended 7,904 breakdowns between the beginning of January and the end of March this year that were due to poor road conditions. This represents a 53 per cent increase over the last three months of 2023, but a 22 per cent decrease compared to the first three months of 2023.

Winter is usually the worst period of the year for road surfaces due to water falling into surface cracks before freezing and expanding and thus causing damage. So, that there is an increase in breakdown callouts related to poor road surfaces between the beginning of January and the end of March is to be expected. Additionally, the reduction in such callouts this winter compared to last year is indicative of an improving general condition of the UK’s roads

However, the RAC says that its data for the first three months of 2024 is “a clear sign that the UK is suffering a pothole epidemic as roads continue to crumble.” 

This is because of the relatively mild winter the UK had this year, which saw more-than-average rainfall, but fewer-than-average frosts. The RAC says that the milder conditions of the 2024 winter “potentially limited the number of brand new potholes forming,” the RAC says.

The RAC therefore concludes that “the decrease in pothole-related breakdowns (in the winter of 2024 compared to the winter of 2023) is [not] a sign of road conditions improving,” but instead a result of a milder-than-usual winter. 

Further supporting the RAC’s perspective that the condition of the UK’s roads are in continual decline is that, it says, motorists are 76 per cent more likely to suffer pothole-related damage on UK roads in 2024 than in 2006, and that it saw a 10 per cent increase in the number of pothole-related breakdown call outs between 1 April 2023 and 31 March 2024 compared to 1 April 2022 and 31 March 2023.

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.

“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.”

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