The true depth of the UK’s pothole problem revealed

Scroll to the murky depths of the UK’s combined 905,000 potholes reported in 2017/18 using interactive animation

Posted on 12 Feb 2019

More than 905,000 potholes were reported to local authorities across the UK in 2017/18(1) – equivalent to almost 2,500 PER DAY, on average.’s scrolling animation lets users visualise the depth of the UK’s pothole problem – which is 33 KM DEEP(2) and THREE TIMES the depth of the Mariana Trench.
Councils paid £2.8 million in compensation in 2017/18, as more than a third (34%) of UK drivers say they have had their car damaged by a pothole.
‘How to claim for pothole damage’ guide launched to advise more than a fifth (22%) of motorists who are confused about their rights to claim.
The animation reveals the South East has the deepest pothole problem, stretching almost 5km(1,2).

As the UK recovers from a burst of icy weather and snow, no doubt more and more potholes will start to pop up on roads, giving motorists quite the bumpy ride. A new scrolling animation drills down to the truth depth of the UK’s pothole problem, as  905,000 were reported to local councils in one year alone(1).

New Freedom of Information data obtained by reveals a whopping 905,172 potholes were flagged to councils across the UK in 2017/18, compared to 887,351 the previous year(1). This works out as almost 2,500 potholes reported per day that year to local authorities, on average. To visualise just how far this problem goes, has created a scrolling animation, which dives through the UK’s potholes to reveal a total depth of 33km(2)

The animation allows users to scroll past iconic recorded depths – such as the English Channel (174m), the Mariana Trench (11km) and the world’s deepest man-made hole (12.3km). Users must scroll all the way into the Earth’s upper mantle (30km) before arriving at the UK’s combined pothole depth, which is three times the depth of the Mariana Trench.

The scale of the UK’s pothole problem has not gone unnoticed by motorists, as further research conducted by found more than a third (34%) of UK drivers have suffered damage to their vehicle as a result of poor road conditions. And it seems February is the most prolific month for this, as more than one in seven (15%) incidents occurred during this time of year. Most of the damage reported was to the vehicle’s tyres (53%), while more than a quarter (26%) said hitting the pothole caused damaged to their suspension, which can be quite costly to fix. This could explain why local authorities have had to fork out more than £2.8 million to compensate victims of pothole damage in one year (2017/18). 

But not all motorists are turning to their local council to help pay for the repairs, as only one in five (23%) tried to claim compensation for the damage they received from hitting a pothole. Instead, many motorists are most likely forking out to pay for the damage themselves, or not repairing it at all. Perhaps this is because more than a fifth (22%) of drivers are confused about their rights to claim for pothole damage. To clear up this confusion, has created a guide for motorists to take them through the process and when they are able to make a legitimate claim. If the council feels it has failed in its duty to maintain the road, they may be willing to cover the cost of repairing the damage(3), which in turn may save motorists potentially hundreds of pounds at a time when motoring is already very expensive.

However, this is not the only expense which has costed councils. In fact, they spent almost £204 million in the same year repairing more than one million potholes or road surfaces, which equates to £169 per pothole, on average. But for some motorists this figure is not enough. In fact, more than a third (37%) of UK motorists are confused why councils are not spending more to repair roads, given the amount of money they receive in fines. Although, in the last Autumn Budget(4), an additional £420m was given to councils in England to tackle potholes, but only two thirds (66%) of motorists think this is a good use of public money.

It is clear the issue is far more prolific in some regions, and users scroll to the true depth of the pothole problem in their area using the animation’s regional view. Those living in South East England may or may not be surprised to learn that it is the most prolific region in the UK when it comes to potholes, with more than 122,000 reported to local authorities in 2017/18. However, it seems the issue goes further than this, as councils in the region tackled more than those reported, with 143,000 potholes being repaired in the same time period, costing them more than £12 million.

Regional pothole problem ranked by depth - top five(1,2)

Region  Number of potholes  Total depth 
South East  122,534 4,830m 
Scotland 111,261 4,432m 
South West 103,652  4,021m 
North East 98,267  3,931m 
North West 97,961  3,901m 

And these potholes have cost individual councils hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation alone, as the data reveals which councils forked out the most money in compensation in 12 months.

Biggest compensation pay-outs to victims of pothole damage in 2017/18(1,2)

Local authority Total compensation pay-out  No. of potholes 
Surrey £446,812  41,295
Lincolnshire £254,657 18,061
Staffordshire  £186,428 19,624
Islington £109,968 109
Bury £91,596 4,587

It’s no surprise motorists would like to see more being done to patch up roads, given how hazardous they can be. In fact, almost three in 10 (28%) drivers have had an accident or near-miss caused by a pothole. Of those who actually had an accident, one in six (17%) said it was because they lost control of their car when they hit the pothole, while a further 15% said it caused their tyre to burst which caused the accident to happen.

And it is not an issue that seems to be getting any better. In fact, more than half (51%) of UK motorists have noticed more potholes on roads in their area over the past year, with a further 54% saying they are taking a long time to be repaired. With the extreme weather the UK has experienced over the past 12 months, it is no wonder roads are being affected. However, one in three (34%) motorists would like to see councils make it easier to report a pothole, and together help in tackling the UK’s pothole problem.

Amanda Stretton, motoring editor at, says:
“Our scrolling animation shows just how deep the UK’s pothole problem goes – a problem that has caused councils to pay out almost £3 million in compensation for pothole damage to vehicles in the last year alone.

“Re-claiming the costs for pothole damage can be confusing for drivers. Many don’t know if it’s best to claim from your insurer, or from the council. To help clear this confusion, drivers looking to claim for pothole damage can find all of the information they need to start the process in our guide.

“The number of potholes reported in the UK has increased by 2% in the last year, and it’s a battle councils continue to fight. If motorists come across a pothole they should report it to their local authority before it gets any worse.”


Notes to editors

Unless otherwise stated, all figures taken from omnibus research carried out by One Poll on behalf of This was an online poll of 2,000 UK adults who drive (nationally representative sample). The research was conducted between 21st January and 24th January 2019.

1. In December 2018, issued a Freedom of Information request to UK councils, of which 151 responded with some or all information on the following:

a. The number of potholes reported within your local authority area broken down by financial year 2016/2017, 2017/2018 and 2018 to date.
b. The minimum depth and width in cm a reported pothole must be in order to be recorded as a pothole by your local authority.
c. The amount of money the local authority has spent - broken down by financial year 2016/2017, 2017/2018 and 2018 to date - on paying compensation to claimants where vehicle damage was caused by potholes/damaged road surfaces.
d. The number of potholes repaired within your local authority area broken down by financial year 2016/2017, 2017/2018 and 2018 to date.
e. The amount of money the local authority has spent on repairing potholes within your local authority area broken down by financial year 2016/2017, 2017/2018 and 2018 to date.

2. The total pothole depth was taken as the number of potholes multiplied by the minimum pothole depth for that local authority. Where a local authority doesn’t specify a minimum depth, a UK-wide median depth of 40mm was used.


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