Pothole Breakdown Call Outs Rise 63% In 2017

RAC pothole call out figures, how potholes form, vehicle damage, and a call for further investment to improve roads

Number of pothole breakdowns

Drivers' shopping trips, commutes to work, and pleasure cruises were interrupted by far more pothole-related breakdowns between January and March 2017 than the same period the previous year – despite the mild weather, The RAC argued. The breakdown company responded to 6,500+ cries of help compared to 4,026 in 2016 (+63%).

They calculated that 2.7% of call outs were pothole-related in the first few months of 2017. This was the largest quarterly percentage since it started keeping such records, in 2006. It stressed, however, that the figure was “slightly offset” by the fall in traditional cold weather breakdowns such as flat batteries.

The Chief Engineer at the RAC, David Bizley, explained: “We had expected a figure no worse than recorded in the first quarter of 2016. It is very concerning that the roads – strangely - appear to have deteriorated in a mild comparatively dry winter”, he argued.

How potholes form

Potholes more easily form if the weather is poor, after all. The process is:

  • Water penetrates a small hole in the surface of the road
  • Water remains within the hole as it cannot escape
  • Temperature falls
  • Water cools, freezes and expands into ice
  • Expansion enlarges the hole
  • More water penetrates the enlarged hole
  • Cycle repeats until the road collapses and forms a pothole

The RAC said the network is “balanced on a knife-edge” due to its poor condition. “Only one season of cold, wet, weather is needed to cause serious further damage”, the vehicle recovery company argued.

Typical vehicle damage

Striking a pothole – in addition to abruptly ending the trip and ruining plans for the day – can cause significant damage to a vehicle. Typical problems include: punctured tyres, distorted wheels (bent), broken suspension springs and wrecked shock absorbers. The cost of these repairs is considerable in some cases.


A call for further maintenance to be carried out for local roads so that motorists can enjoy their time behind the wheel. Mr Bizley said: “As a nation, we have a long way to go to ensure the whole road network – not just our major roads which are enjoying one of the largest investment programmes in a generation – is really fit for purpose.”

Adding: “Local authorities have a huge funding gap. Until central government is willing to ring-fence sufficient funding to bring local roads back into a state that is fit for purpose, their condition will be subject to the whims of the weather”, he claimed.