Study shows UK councils adopting ‘risk-based’ approach to road repairs


A new study from UK transportation policy and research organization the RAC Foundation shows that local highway authorities (LHAs) across the country are increasingly adopting the ‘risk-based’ approach to fixing road defects, with the fastest-acting councils aiming to repair the most severe potholes within minutes.

The risk-based approach means that not only will the size (width and depth) of a pothole be taken into account, but also the type of road it is on, the volume of traffic that road carries, and the mix of road users. Intervention times will also depend on the physical size of the local authority area and also the length and makeup of their road network, with urban authorities tending to have smaller and more geographically confined networks than their rural counterparts.

The RAC Foundation study was based on data received from 190 of the 207 local highway authorities in the UK, which revealed that 75% (142) had already moved to a risk-based approach by autumn 2018, by when a further 15 (8%) said they were about to move to the new system or were reviewing their existing practices.

Although adopting a risk-based approach is becoming increasingly common, almost all authorities still set minimum investigation levels, based on depth and width measurements, below which they will not assess potholes, nor assign response times based on the dangers they pose.

These investigation levels vary considerably. While 37 local highway authorities said they would investigate further when a pothole was between 0.7in and 1.2in (20-30mm) deep, 26 others said the depth had to be at least 2in (50mm) or more.

The Foundation’s study showed that:

  • Councils in Cumbria, Flintshire and South Lanarkshire aim to act ‘immediately’ to repair those potholes that pose the greatest risk to the state of the road and the safety of drivers and riders;
  • Harrow Council sets a target repair time of half an hour;
  • A further 16 councils aim to patch things up within an hour, and five within 90 minutes;
  • The most common response time to the most urgent problems is two hours, with 79 councils looking to patch up the road within this period;
  • At the other end of the scale it can take some councils three or more days to intervene.

“It is good to see that the vast majority of local highway authorities are adopting the best practice ‘risk-based’ approach recommended by the UK Roads Liaison Group, which is putting the risk to road users front and center alongside the potential for a defect to develop into a bigger structural problem,” commented Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation.

Study shows UK councils adopting ‘risk-based’ approach to road repairs

“The total number of potholes being filled in might still be limited by a shortage of funding, but this approach at least means those that are most dangerous are fixed first. It is understandable that large rural authorities set themselves longer response times, simply as a result of having to travel further to effect repairs, but motorists might still be surprised to see such a wide variation across the country.

“Those particularly vulnerable to potholes, cyclists and motorcyclists, might ask whether the speed of pothole investigation should be based solely on the risk to users.”

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Adam joined the company in 1994, and has been News Editor of TTT since 2009. In his other role as Circulation Manager, he helped create the original Traffic Technology International distribution list 23 years ago, and has been working on it ever since. Outside of work, he is a keen fisherman, runs a drumming band, and plays an ancient version of cricket.