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Recent Poor Weather Brings Even More Potholes

More than I can remember, the condition of our roads and pavements appears to be worse than ever.  They even made BBC Northwest News recently, such is the proliferation of potholes.  Headlines such as "Potholes send breakdown figures flying" and "Freezing temperatures will cause more potholes" are seen more and more frequent on websites such as BBC News.

Potholes are a particular menace at this time of year. The science behind them is pretty straightforward. As soon as there is any kind of small crevice into which water can enter, if temperatures drop below zero, the water will freeze and turn to ice, which then expands, making the crevice ever larger. Vehicles passing over the same point cause further deterioration until a pothole appears.

The Beast From The East

Recently we have experienced significant variations in temperature (global warming anyone?) that have meant that temperatures below freezing have been a frequent occurrence. Cracks and holes in the roads are developing seemingly faster than our councils can repair them.

The law puts a positive duty on highway authorities to maintain our roads. In practise therefore this means that they cannot rely upon people reporting problems to them, they have to have their own procedures in place. Most authorities therefore employ dedicated highway inspectors whose job it is to scour our roads and pavements for defects. That does not mean each and every tiny nook and cranny of course: councils will have their own criteria about what they consider to be dangerous and worthy of repair, known in legal speak as being ‘actionable.’ Whether or not a particular defect is actionable could be a (w)hole blog in itself!

I have some sympathy with highway authorities in these days of austerity and cutbacks. Most are having to make the same amount of money go further to maintain and keep in repair ever more roads surfaces with increasing volumes of traffic.  But from experience it doesn’t seem that they are doing anything in particular to help themselves. Most rely upon visual inspections from inspectors either walking up and down all day or inspecting from a car or van. Surely this cannot be reliable or efficient? I’ve often thought (well, perhaps often is a slight exaggeration) that given the technology around today, it must be possible to invent some sort of gadget that can assist, perhaps attached to a car, that could detect and flag up potential candidates for repair. One for Dragon’s Den or the future Sir Trevor Bayliss’s perhaps. [What’s the plural of Bayliss anyone?]

In my line of work..

I act for pedestrians who have come a cropper due to potholes in the pavements and roads but also and predominantly cyclists who have suffered the same misfortune. Cyclists though are especially exposed to these dangers. My own experiences of highways in Cheshire are that the edges of rural lanes and roads are often in a very poor condition, precisely where most cyclists ride. On top of that cyclists have other vehicles to worry about, cars rocketing past at speed and in close proximity, pedestrians and so on.

We have seen some really nasty injuries from cyclists coming off because of potholes. Hitting a pothole with your front wheel is like hitting a wall. Inevitably it will mean being stopped very abruptly and thrown off at speed. We often see people suffering fractured shoulders, arms and elbows where they’ve hit the tarmac, injuries that are much less likely to happen to most pedestrians for example.

Doing the job I do and as well as being perhaps slightly geeky, I do find myself looking out for potholes and problems with the roads when not in the office. Recently I have taken to reporting those I think are in need of attention to the relevant local council. Most councils will have a dedicated part of their website that will enable you to do this but there are also sites like or you can use. They will let you pinpoint the defect, upload pictures and so on, as well as showing you whether the defect has been reported before. They will then pass the information on to the council for you, as well as updating you about the progress of any repairs. I like to think that I may have saved a few grazes, broken bones or worse through my endeavours and encourage you to do the same.

In the meantime though if you do see any extreme examples of potholes, I would love to see them! Please tweet them to @AlistairWLaw or @Twisted_Spokes


I can’t finish without sharing a story that I saw about unfortunate highway inspector Darren, working for Cheshire West Council. If you see a pothole you think needs some work, don’t call Darren…

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