The risk you take when driving on Britain's hole-filled roads
The judder of your tyres, the jolt of your steering wheel, the squeal of your brakes - potholes are the scourge of motorists across the UK - and they’re showing no signs of being filled in anytime soon.
The UK has a staggering 39,810 potholes and the number’s rising. That means you run the risk of finding one every time you take to the roads, and having to make a claim on your car insurance for the damage.
We’ve done some research to discover the pothole capitals of the country, seeing where the biggest offenders are and which councils take the longest to fix them.
Strap in. You could be in for a bumpy ride.
The UK's biggest potholes mapped
We looked into three years’ worth of pothole Freedom of Information (FOI) request data, collected from councils across the UK, to find out how big the UK’s pothole problem truly is.
Using this data, the study reveals that the UK’s total potholes stretch more than 115,000m in width. This is equivalent to 115km or 72 miles - more than 1,103 premier league football pitches in length, back to back.
We also found out which regions and cities are spending the most on pothole repairs and whose residents are claiming the most for pothole damage to their vehicles.
Total width of UK potholes115,846m
- All of the UK
- East Midlands
- East of England
- North East
- North West
- Northern Ireland
- South West
- South East
- West Midlands
- Yorkshire & Humber
Scaled total width of potholes
Kent is the UK pothole capital
The study revealed that Kent’s potholes stretch the greatest total width, with more than any other location in the UK. Its pothole problem covers over 10,000 metres of road - a whole 2,000 metres more than its nearest rival, Staffordshire, with 8,145 metres. Scotland’s Fife ranked third with its potholes totalling a whopping 7,211 metres in width.
Not only does Kent win on width, it also tops the table for the sheer number of holes in its roads. In 2020, despite how many of us were driving less due to Covid restrictions, they still managed to report a staggering 13,554 potholes. Fife came in second with 12,650 reports, while Staffordshire managed 11,250 complaints.
At the other end of the spectrum we found a group of London boroughs. Hammersmith and Fulham (22), Royal Greenwich (10) and Tower Hamlets (41) have barely reported any issues this year, which ties in well with the City of London’s pothole protocol. Residents of Royal Greenwich also have the smallest potholes, with a combined width of just 40 metres for the last three years.
Scotland has the largest potholes by region
Northern Ireland the best for reducing pothole size since 2018
Northern Ireland’s potholes have reduced in width from 2,864 metres in 2018 to just 613 in 2020, a huge 42.1% decrease. The North West followed suit, managing to reduce pothole size by 40.6% from 10,484 metres in 2018 to 2,480 metres in 2020.
However, the East Midlands is the reigning region when it comes to the smallest potholes recorded in 2020, totalling only 118m this year. This figure pales in comparison to Scotland which had the widest potholes recorded at 3,210 metres.
The South East takes the longest to repair it's potholes
Overall, the South East took the longest on average out of any other UK region to report and repair it's potholes with Southampton in particular, struggling at an average delay of 71 days.
Despite the North West ranking sixth on average, it was Liverpool that took the longest in 2019. Potholes there took an average of 191 days to be filled in and resurfaced, with Merseyside drivers forced to wait for their commute to become smooth again.
Fortunately, 2020 looks to be going better. So far it’s only taken Liverpool council 66 days to repair their potholes, making it the UK’s most improved.
Although only ranking seventh overall the West Midlands is home to the city with the longest gap between report and repair. With an average of 88 days between pothole report and pothole repair, Stoke has a lot of work to do to improve its pockmarked roads.
Highways of England were the fastest to mend potholes between report and repair, leaving an average of just one day. Two of the fastest fillers out of the UK's cities are Sunderland and Birmingham - both also get round to resurfacing roads in a record one-day average. No pothole’s too big.
Less than a week
ND: East Midlands & Northern Ireland
Councils spend £99m a year on fixing potholes
While it might feel like ‘your’ pothole problem is an ongoing nuisance, UK councils have actually spent a combined total of £99 million on fixing them in 2020. Resurfacing costs - labour, materials and rerouting traffic all add up, with councils in Wolverhampton (£7.47m) and Cornwall (£9.56m) all spending huge sums to plug their problems.
However, it’s Kent where we find the most pound per pothole. The council there spent a huge £10.5m on resurfacing roads, £400,000 more than they had done the year before.
And it’s important that they do. Although you can choose to claim for pothole damage on your car insurance, you can also claim from the council, or authority, responsible for maintaining the road where the pothole damage occurred.
Northern Ireland has claimed -52% since 2019
Back in 2019, drivers in Northern Ireland claimed a huge £407,639 on their insurance for pothole damage. That’s almost four times as much as the next highest scorer of Birmingham, with £138,802 claimed. However, in 2020 Northern Ireland’s claims have plummeted. Only £152,454 has been claimed this year - still the highest in the UK, but drastically less than was claimed in the previous 12 months.
The lowest overall claimers for the past three years was Wales. Its average cost per claim was just £7 versus £266 for Northern Ireland.
Number of claims and the total cost
Using freedom of information requests (FOI) we found out the number of potholes that has been reported and the time taken by councils to repair them. The FOI also returned data on how much councils across the UK spend fixing potholes. Finally the data found the total number of claims and the cost of each claim from each region’s residents.
We issued Freedom of Information requests to government councils across the UK. These results feature responses from 67 councils.
All data collected have been collated over the past three years between 2018 and 2020.
Full data set available here.