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Image courtesy of phanlop88 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of phanlop88 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With yet another severe winter having been evident this year, and with no sign of spring looking like it is going to be arriving any time in the near future, road users are finding that not only do they have to look out for more traffic on the road but also for more potholes in the road as well – and according to campaign website Potholes.co.uk, it is motorists in Scotland and the North of England that are more likely (up to three times more likely) to find their cars damaged on poorly maintained, potholed roads.

This fact was revealed by automotive warranty specialist, Warranty Direct, who analysed data that they hold from more than 50,000 live consumer policies over the last four years and found that suspension failure is most prevalent at the top end of the UK, with North Yorkshire being the furthest south.

And potholes don’t just mean more cost for councils already burdened by having to cut budgets as the Government’s fiscal policy hits hard, but it’s also an attack on the bank balances of drivers, with an average repair cost of £257 hitting those victims of ‘potholing’.

Image courtesy of surachai / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of surachai / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Warranty Direct have worked out that repairs to axle and suspension parts on cars cost drivers in the UK a total of around £1 million A DAY to repair; and a lot of this cost can be put down to a “legacy of years of underinvestment in road maintenance.” And, with ‘pothole season’ predicted to last at least until April, more misery is yet to be heaped upon us all.

Duncan McClure Fisher, managing director of Warranty Direct, said: “It isn’t just the catastrophic suspension failures that potholes can cause that are the problem. Continued driving over potholes or other uneven road obstacles, like speed humps, gives your car’s suspension a regular pounding and the cumulative damage this causes will eventually result in a breakage.

“With so much of our road network resembling Swiss cheese, it’s almost impossible to avoid. This is especially true of places, like Scotland, which have a high concentration of rural roads (78% in Scotland & Wales as against58% in England) , as these get less attention from local authorities than major highways.”

In fact, according to the data, 1 in 10 motorists in the Angus region of Scotland will face a bill from a garage for suspension repairs this year, as against 3 in 100 in East Sussex, the area with the least chance of pothole damage. Seven of the 10 UK regions worst affected by bad roads are in Scotland, with North Yorkshire, Tyne & Wear and Cumbria making up the rest of that Top 10, but the top 20 are also dominated by northern counties.

Meanwhile, the best places to avoid pothole perils are mostly in the South, with Somerset, Devon, Dorset and Hampshire all among the safest regions. And Blackburn in Lancashire, made famous by John Lennon’s lyric in the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”, has got better obviously because Lancashire is the best placed ‘northern’ area in the table.But why are potholes becoming so common? Admittedly the winter has already seen some of the worst road conditions in recent history, but they don’t have this problem in Norway and Sweden – and it snows a bit there too I do believe.

However here is seems to be getting worse.

The website Potholes.co.uk has seen traffic to its site increase since December with more drivers having reported damage in the last three months than in the same period in any of the last three years.

And an Asphalt Industry Alliance survey produced in March last year estimated there were 1.5m potholes in England and Wales, with public complaints up 10% from the previous year and a looming £10bn repair bill. The new survey due soon will paint a gloomier picture as spokesman David Weeks says: “The general public is perfectly well aware that the pothole situation is getting worse and the state of our roads is continuing to decline.

"The current 'patch and mend' system is inefficient. What is needed is for the government to invest money in preventitive maintenance, which would create safer roads and be far more cost-effective in the long term."

Obviously the pothole situation not only affects motorists but motorbikers and cyclists too – and for these two-wheelers the danger is greater for personal injury, with a trip over the handlebars an unwanted journey. Chris Peck, policy co-ordinator of CTC, the national cycling charity, says: "A good road bike can cost £750 and be written off by hitting a pothole. And of course there's a much greater risk of personal injury to cyclists who are involved in pothole-related accidents. I suffered facial injuries and whiplash after such an accident and successfully claimed £4,000 from Transport for London."

Image courtesy of phanlop88 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of phanlop88 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So if it happens to you, whatever you drive, then you need to act quickly because councils will not make it easy for you to claim against them. In fact they can make it really hard and complicated.

The first thing you need to do is get your evidence together, and that includes a picture of the pothole that caused the damage. Use your mobile phone if necessary but do it quickly. A good friend of mine damaged his suspension on a pothole, rang up the council and they told him he needed evidence. This was after he had told them where the pothole was, and when he went to take a picture – you guessed it – it had been repaired.

See if there were any witnesses or if the incident was recorded on CCTV (cameras are everywhere), and make sure when you take a picture of the hole that you put something in the picture that shows the size of the hole. Not everyone carries a ruler around with them in their car, maybe put a hand or a foot in the picture to show the size – and take as many photos as possible.

Make sure that you contact the right office to complain and make a claim. Normally this will be the council, but if it is an ‘A’ road or a motorway then it is the responsibility of The Highways Agency.

But watch out for section 58 of the Highways Act 1980. This is used a lot by councils to defend themselves because it states that "reasonable measures" had to be taken to ensure the safety of its roads, but if you can show that the offending pothole was previously reported to them but wasn't repaired promptly you can get round this.

Obviously some councils are more reticent than others to accept claims and pay out, so don’t paint all councils with the same brush. Give them a chance first, and if they fail to comply with any reasonable requests, you may have to threaten them with a small claims court, but that is really a last resort. Just don’t give up.

Alternatively, if you have comprehensive car insurance, according to Linsey White, spokesperson for the Association of British Insurers (ABI), pothole damage should be covered. "However, claiming may affect your no-claims discount so do check this with your individual insurer," she says.