Pothole-ridden roads cost authorities more than £12 million in compensation

potholes have become a bigger problem than ever in the UKBritish roads are like “the surface of the moon” says the RAC. Sadly, for many UK road users, that comment comes as no surprise. In an MCN poll, one in five motorcycle riders said they’d had an accident or sustained damage to their bike as a result of hitting a pothole.

The pothole problem has become so big, local authorities and Highways England have forked out more than £12 million in compensation between 2018 and 2021.

But while crater-laden roads are a universal problem for anyone using them, the potential for harm and damage isn’t. There’s no doubt cars suffer expensive damage to tyres and suspension, with some repairs costing unfortunate motorists more than £250. In fact, the RAC revealed that over 10,000 callouts in 2021 were down to pothole related damage. The automobile experts also highlighted that pothole callouts were at their highest between July and September 2021 compared to any other Q3 period over the last 15 years.

However, while potholes are an inconvenience for cars, for anyone on two wheels, they are potential death traps. Tragically, in 2018, a motorcyclist was killed after her bike hit a car that had slowed to avoid a huge pothole. Northamptonshire County Council had been made aware of the pothole three days before the accident but were not scheduled to fix it for at least another five days.

Reiterating just how dangerous pothole-infested roads really are, some motorcycling groups believe that people on bikes “put their lives at risk” every time they ride. In an impassioned plea to Kent County Council, a member of the Kent Advanced Motorcyclists Group wrote: “To have your handlebars wrenched from your grip and to be thrown out of the saddle is more than being simply ‘uncomfortable’, it is, at the very least, frightening and it can be very dangerous.”

Who’s to blame and how to get compensation

It’s easy to play the blame game, but the truth is that while some local authorities have seen budget increases, they don’t take into account inflation and the rising cost of materials. A recent Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) report also shows that a pothole is filled every 19 seconds – at a total cost of over £107 million.

Of course, stretched budgets and good intentions don’t cover the cost of damage if a pothole has caused injuries to you or damage to your motorbike – but a successful claim could. Just over one quarter of compensation claims against councils resulted in a payout according to an investigation by What Car? so here’s how you can improve those chances and recoup your repair costs.

1.     Gather evidence

The first and most important part of the process is to gather as much evidence as you can. If it’s possible (and safe to do so) take photos of the pothole with measurements. Make a note of the day and time of the accident and the location of the pothole.

2.     Get a repair quote and keep receipts

Ask the mechanic to write down the damage your bike has sustained, along with a cost breakdown. Taking photos of the damage can also help bolster your claim.

3.     Check who’s responsible for the pothole and report it

Most motorways and main roads are managed by Highways England, Traffic Scotland, or Traffic Wales. Local authorities are responsible for smaller public roads. You can find contact details for these organisations and appropriate local councils at GOV.UK.

You can also find out if a pothole has been reported by checking your council website. If it’s already been reported, but nothing’s been done, this can also be included as useful evidence to help your claim.

Each organisation or council will have their own template or process for making pothole claims, so follow any instructions set out. If your claim’s rejected you can pursue the issue in a small claims court but remember that if you’re unsuccessful, you face covering all the legal expenses.

Is it better to make a claim through my insurance provider?

Most of the motorcyclists we questioned (68%) didn’t actually know if their insurance policies would cover damage caused by a pothole. However, if you do claim through your insurance, damage will be classed as an ‘at-fault’ claim, which would put your no claims discount at risk. You may also wish to consider the cost of the excess vs the cost of the repairs themselves, to help decide whether or not it’s worth making the claim.

If a pothole is on private land, you may be able to make a claim against the landowner who should have public liability insurance to cover the costs.

Potholes are a menace to road safety and a side effect of budget restraints and poor maintenance. They are also an all too familiar sight and 79% of riders when questioned by MCN, agreed there were a lot of potholes in their area, while almost half strongly agreed. But with UK roads only resurfaced every 70 years instead of the recommended 10-20 years, it looks like they are here to stay.

Read our next article on motorbike insurance by bike type >

Go back to motorbike insurance guides >