Potholes: the true cost to cyclists

Cycling UK is calling on the public to report potholes via Fill That Hole
Cyclist reporting a pothole via Fill That Hole
Cyclist reporting a pothole via Fill That Hole

Potholes: the true cost to cyclists

Pothole compensation claims are costing councils 25 times more in payouts for cyclists than for motorists, an investigation by Cycling UK has found.

Take action: Fill That Hole

Cycling UK findings confirm that while potholes can be an inconvenience for motorists, they are more likely to cause injury, and even death, for cyclists.

The charity which runs the pothole reporting webtool and app Fill That Hole, today (Sunday 03 March) published their research to mark the launch of Pothole Watch week (03 - 09 March).

The aim of the awareness week is to encourage the public to help cash-strapped councils by reporting road defects.

Potholes aren’t just an expensive nuisance, they are ruining lives.

Paul Tuohy, Cycling UK CEO

“Cyclists are running the gauntlet when riding on British roads following a decade of underinvestment leading to the poor state they’re currently in,” said Cycling UK CEO Paul Tuohy. “Potholes aren’t just an expensive nuisance, they are ruining lives.”

The information was obtained by the charity through a series of Freedom of Information requests to 211 highway authorities across the UK. A total of 156 responded.  

The charity asked about the amount of compensation paid out to cyclists and motorists, and the number of successful claims made over the five-year period between financial years 2013/14 and 2017/18.

It discovered that while the average compensation payout per motorist was around £340, councils paid on average £8,800 per cyclist for incidents involving potholes.

According to Department for Transport figures, published after a Parliamentary Question submitted by Cambridge MP, Daniel Zeichner, since 2007, at least 431 cyclists were killed or seriously injured on Britain’s roads.

The charity says its findings show the scale of the problem is much worse than those presented by casualty stats.

The vast difference in compensation payouts between motorists and cyclists demonstrates that the UK’s underfunded local roads are adversely affecting cyclists who are being killed or seriously injured due to defective road surfaces.

There was this instant when the whole bike jumped up. I was thrown up into the air and off the bike – the whole thing was a bit of a blur.

Stephen Greenham, pothole victim

Stephen Greenham, an IT engineer at O2 from High Wycombe, ended up in A&E with a fractured wrist, bad bruising and road rash when he hit a pothole in Wooburn Green, Buckinghamshire in August 2018.

He said: “I was just cycling along the road and just starting to go downhill and beginning to pick up speed, when suddenly there was this instant when the whole bike jumped up. I was thrown up into the air and off the bike – the whole thing was a bit of a blur. When I hit the pothole I was travelling about 20mph.

“In total, it took about 10-11 weeks before I was fully able to ride a bike again.”

The Asphalt Industry Alliance estimates after decades of underinvestment in the local road networks it would cost £9.3 billion to repair the damage on British roads.

Cycling UK is therefore using its inaugural ‘Pothole Watch’ to call on the Government to adopt a 'fix it first' policy, and invest part of its £25 billion Road Investment Strategy, which is currently ring-fenced for the building and maintenance of motorways and trunk roads, into repairing local roads.

“The Government is going to spend £25bn on maintaining and building new motorways, while effectively each year it finds some loose change for the problem of potholes on local roads,” said Mr Tuohy. “Cycling UK wants Government to adopt a ‘fix it first’ policy. Let's repair the local roads first - the ones we all use in our cars and on our bikes everyday - before building new motorways.

“Through Pothole Watch, I want to encourage the wider public to help councils by reporting potholes and helping them identify where the problems are – then they can start fixing them.”

The charity says councils should identify where their roads are deteriorating, not just so they know where repairs are needed, but also to assist in presenting a fuller picture of Britain’s pothole problem.

With many minor roads only assessed by road maintenance teams on an annual basis, there are vast stretches of potholed roads that councils are unaware of. Through Fill That Hole, which sends reports directly to councils, the public can help correct this.

Key findings over the five period include:

  • 537 cyclists and 19363 motorists made successful claims; a total of 40,687 claims were paid out (figure includes council responses where no distinction between cyclists and motorists were made)
  • Authorities’ average compensation payout per cyclist: £8,825.93
  • Authorities’ average compensation payout per motorist £338.88
  • Total compensation and legal costs for 156 authorities: £44,856,858.41
  • Authorities on average incurred costs of: £287,543.96

Join in Cycling UK's 'Pothole Watch' and report potholes via Fill That Hole

Take action: Fill That Hole

Contact information 

For more information contact the national Cycling UK Press Office on 01483 238 315, 07786 320 713 or email publicity@cyclinguk.org

Notes to editors 

1.Cycling UK, the national cycling charity, inspires and helps people to cycle and keep cycling, whatever kind of cycling they do or would like to do. Over a century’s experience tells us that cycling is more than useful transport; it makes you feel good, gives you a sense of freedom and creates a better environment for everyone. www.cyclinguk.org

2.For further information on Cycling UK’s Fill That Hole go to: www.fillthathole.org.uk

3. For the Fill That Hole league table of highway authorities see: https://www.fillthathole.org.uk/league-table

4. For the full results of Cycling UK’s FOI investigation see: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1chQX0HsYHmsnjUSe8qLgYW7I8ferxV5w6z8-VaeeedU/edit?usp=sharing

5. Highway Authorities with the highest compensation pay outs and highest number of processed claims over five years:

 

Highest

       

Cyclist Compensation

Motorist Compensation

 

Both

 

Essex County Council

£361,854.57

Essex County Council

£775,927.66

Nottinghamshire (incl. one very large claim)

£5,095,489.00

City of Westminster

£301,875.00

Highways England

£460,740.00

Enfield (London)

£3,085,370.00

Cheshire East

£241,793.00

Wiltshire

£371,611.33

Surrey

£1,663,486.00

North Lincolnshire

£211,564.19

Lincolnshire

£304,231.34

Essex

£1,137,782.23

Bradford

£206,778.43

West Sussex

£281,686.16

Northumberland

£889,901.00

           

Cyclist Claims

 

Motorist Claims

 

Both

 

Wiltshire

38

Northamptonshire

2578

Northamptonshire

2585

N Somerset

35

Lincolnshire

1870

Surrey

2449

Oxfordshire

27

Wiltshire

1638

Hampshire

2192

Westminster

26

Highways England

1146

Staffordshire

1908

Essex

24

N Somerset

1054

Lincolnshire

1889

6. Highway Authorities with lowest compensation pay outs over five years

Lowest

 

Combined (many for £0 for cyclists)

 

£724.25

Blaenau Gwent County Borough

£1,188.53

Torfaen County Borough

£1,442.85

Halton Borough Council

£1,892.09

London Borough of Redbridge

£1,996.72

Clackmannanshire Council

 

7. According to Government figures, since 2007, 431 cyclists were killed (23) or seriously injured (408) due to poor or defective road surfaces. For further information on the number of people killed or seriously injured while cycling see Parliamentary Questions by Daniel Zeichner https://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2019-02-14.221721.h&s=daniel+zeichner#g221721.q0 and Catherine West https://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2018-02-22.129317.h

Case study


Stephen's fractured wrist in its cast

Stephen Greenham, High Wycombe

Stephen Greenham, an IT engineer living in High Wycombe, is a regular cyclist who hit a pothole in Wooburn Green, Buckinghamshire, August 2018.

Stephen had taken a diversion from his normal route due to an extended road closure in the area, so took another hill.

He had just begun to build up speed when he hit a pothole. Consequently, he ended up in A&E with a fractured wrist, bad bruising and road rash and his bike sustained £200 worth of damage. In his own words:

"I was just cycling along the road and just starting to go downhill and beginning to pick up speed, when suddenly there was this instant when the whole bike jumped up.

"I was thrown up into the air and off the bike – the whole thing was a bit of a blur.

"When I hit the pothole I was travelling about 20mph.

"The most pain at the time was in my ankle, but x-rays showed it wasn't fractured - but my wrist was. 

“In total, it took about 10-11 weeks before I was fully able to ride a bike again.”


Stephen Greenham six months after his pothole incident
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