National highways, town centre roads and countryside roads up and down the UK are plagued with damaged road surfaces that have the potential to cause significant damage to your vehicle.

Despite councils having the responsibility to fix any hazard causing trouble on the road, an analysis conducted by RAC and Channel 4’s Dispatchables has found massive disparities in how road defects are actioned by councils.

Dealt with on a case-by-case basis, the RAC found that only a third of councils only fix potholes when they reach a certain depth no matter the damage it could potentially cause to a car or motor vehicle.

The Chronicle approached Reading Borough Council to discover their criteria for how deep a pothole needs to be in order for action to be taken.

Different authorities are taking wildly differing approaches to deciding whether or not potholes will be fixed and Reading Borough Council is no different.

As a priority, the council repairs defects that are deeper than 40mm, wider than 300mm and have a vertical edge.

Reading Chronicle:

40mm is about the size of two 20p pieces. 300mm is about a foot or the length of a school ruler.

This means that some potholes which do not reach the measurements may go unrepaired and continue to pose a risk to road users – especially those on two wheels.

A spokesperson from Reading Borough Council said: “Defects may be reported to the council or identified via a routine highway inspection. The repair of defects are prioritised by a highway inspector based on a visual assessment of the risk posed to users (pedestrians and motorists).

“There is no national definition of a pothole and consequently the council has adopted a risk-based definition. Defects pose different risks to users depending on their location and the level of use of the road or footway.”

Among the 35% of councils (71) that say they will only act on potholes if they meet certain criteria, Reading is among the most common depth (4cm). Nottingham, Torfaen and South Lanarkshire – potholes need to be at least 5cm deep to be considered for repair.

Following these findings, the RAC fears the lack of a consistent approach among local authorities to pothole repairs is bad for all road users. Specifically, the RAC is concerned the use of specific size-based criteria could be being used by councils as a means of ‘kicking the can down the road’ and avoiding repairing potholes.

RAC spokesperson Rod Dennis said: “For a long time, we’ve advised the public to report each and every pothole they come across to their local authority, not least as a council can refuse to compensate for damage caused from hitting one if they can prove they didn’t know it existed. But unfortunately, as this analysis shows, just reporting a road defect doesn’t guarantee it will get fixed.

“In some cases, councils state a pothole needs to be sufficiently deep or wide to be considered for repair. This can be enormously frustrating for anyone who comes across one, reports it but then witnesses it get even bigger and more dangerous as it didn’t quite reach a council’s threshold for repair.

“What’s just as bad is when a council provides no information whatsoever on how they decide which road defects warrant their attention and which don’t. In these cases, drivers going to the effort of reporting potholes have no idea at all whether anything will ever happen.

“There’s no doubting councils are in an incredibly difficult position when it comes to looking after their roads. Despite the promise of more funds from central government, the fact remains that the desperate state of many of the country’s highways is something that has been many years in the making, and there are no quick fixes. 

“We believe there is an urgent need for Whitehall to provide fresh guidance to councils to bring about consistency when it comes to prioritising potholes and taking action to fix them. We’re also concerned about reports that some councils are refusing compensation claims from drivers who have damaged their cars from potholes, by stating they already have them scheduled for repair – even if that repair isn’t due for months.”