All drivers will have felt the feeling of despair and panic when driving along the road and hearing the crunch and bang of a wheel hitting an unseen pothole. The feeling of sickness comes over you. What damage has been caused? What will you need to do? You check your car – no visible damage; escaped.
WRONG! When the car next goes to the garage for a service they ring you up. Your wheel is cracked; the car is undriveable – it is urgent, you have been travelling around with your kids in an unsafe car (a very high proportion of cars are driving around in an unsafe condition). You get it fixed and have to borrow a car as you are going away for a few days. Or suddenly your car engine drops out because you have been over so many potholes (a number every day) that severe damage has been cause – so the car needs to be recovered by your garage for major repair. Or even worse you suffer personal injury when your car crashes when you hit a deep pothole, or try to dodge one.
Someone must be responsible for the bad state of the road? CORRECT. The local Council is probably the highway authority for the majority of roads in your county and has a duty under the Highways Act 1980 to maintain these.
So you make a claim for the damage caused to your car or yourselves – so no problem there then? WRONG. They will try to frighten you first into not making a claim, but if you do they or their insurers always deny any responsibility. They have a Statutory Defence and will quote Section 58because despite having a duty to maintain roads the Act recognise that defects will occur, so there is no automatic right to compensation, and Councils simply say that they inspect roads regularly and therefore met their duty! You then have to prove that they were delinquent – didn’t inspect enough or act on a fault reported to them or fix defaults in a reasonable time or have warning signs (all decided upon by themselves and not regulated!) So you can appeal against their initial decision to deny your claim, but they remain the decision maker, so you can get stuffed or embark on legal action and then take them to court (risky and expensive!). Therefore they get away with refusing the bulk of claims! Hardly a fair system in a civilised democracy is it? Anyway, when your claim gets rejected, and this is not fair, the advice is still carry on and appeal – you just might be lucky and get your money! People can use the Freedom of Information Act to find out from the council (highways authority) the details of their road inspection and repair records, or when they knew about the fault. (They will only pay up if they see you are determined and know the facts!).
UK had severe icy weather last winter and in early 2013 and this inevitably caused serious road surface damage – hundreds and hundreds of potholes (many not dealt with because of councils’ budget cuts – but the motoring public are then forced to take the consequences!). Possibly half of all cars have been damaged by potholes costing some £2billion! (Councils pay out only about £20million or so in compensation, so the public end up paying for the results of inadequate road maintenance). Well done the authorities and our law makers.
The scale of the pothole problem is mind-blowing. Will it get solved? Don’t hold your breath!