By Mark Cartwright, head of LCVs, Freight Transport Association
A succession of hard winters coupled with a significant squeeze on the budgets of local authorities responsible for the upkeep of most of the UK’s roads has resulted in a bumper crop of potholes.
According to the Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey – a comprehensive audit of Britain’s smaller roads – one in five of the UK’s roads now have a life expectancy of less than five years.
The ALARM report also shows that although local authorities repaired 2.2 million potholes last year, it would take a mind-blowing 12 years at the current rate to clear the road repair backlog in England and Wales even if the budget
The report concludes that it would cost £10.5 billion for a one-off blitz to get the roads back into a reasonable condition.
Not surprisingly, there has been a good amount of column inches in the national press recently given to the state of the roads with this, by and large, focusing on the impact on car users.
We were interested in looking at this from the point of view of van operators and surveyed van operating members of FTA.
The first thing we wanted to understand was how many operators had experienced damage due to the impact of potholes. The findings weren’t a happy story with almost two-thirds reporting they had suffered damage.
Aside from the impact on the vehicle itself, there can be further issues.
As the fleet and logistics manager at one of the UK’s NHS ambulance trusts put it: “Critical patients can be put at risk by poor road surfaces.
"They can make an injury worse and they also slow down the response to critical patients.”
What kind of damage are operators experiencing?
“It’s pretty much the kind of damage you’d expect: tyres, suspension, steering tracking etc with the occasional stone chip to the windscreen.” said Paul Taylor, fleet manager at Morgan Sindall.
“The irony for us is that, as a civil engineering company who has to operate in challenging environments, they’re the same sort of issues we experience operating on-site.”
The stats from our survey bear this out with more than 70% of the incidents of damage regularly involving tyre damage with suspension breakages being the next most common.
Aside from vehicle damage there is also the potential for collisions either from the impact of the vehicle (or other road-users) with a pothole or from drivers attempting to swerve a pothole.