Potholes are a nuisance for all road users, but they actually present a danger to very few of them. The road user most at risk of having a run-in with a pothole is of course, the cyclist.
What is a Pothole?
A pothole is a defect in the road that often has a sharp lip and a few centimetres deep.
There doesn’t appear to be any consistency between local authorities as to the actual dimensions of a pothole.
In Gloucester an actionable pothole is the depth of a “golf ball” (40mm deep) and the width of a “large dinner plate” (300mm wide).
However, just over the border in Worcestershire a pothole would have a smaller width constituting that of a “small dinner plate” (200mm wide).
Further disparity can be observed by travelling eastward to Suffolk, where a pothole the size of a “large dinner plate” would be actionable, unless it was on a minor road where it would then have to be the size of a “dustbin lid” (600mm wide).
The measurements vary depending on where the pothole is, but it can quite clearly be seen that there is no standard definition of a pothole. The best indicator would be to look at the guidelines published by each local highway authority.
Below are some brief statistics about potholes in the UK:
- 22 cyclists have died in accidents involving a defective road surface since 2007 (Department for Transport).
- Potholes are fixed every 21 seconds in England and Wales (Local Government Association).
- £43.3 million has been spent on compensation claims over the last five years (Cycling UK).
- Of this £43.3 million, almost £10 million was spent on legal costs (Cycling UK).
- Over half a million potholes were reported to local authorities in 2017 (RAC).
The Danger of Potholes
Over the past couple of years, as cycling has been increasing in popularity, we have heard of many stories of potholes tragically causing injury or taking lives.
Potholes can cause minor damage to cars but is still perfectly safe for the occupant. Car occupants have the luxury of being surrounded by a protective shell. Cyclists are not as safe, when they hit a pothole it can cause irreparable damage to a bike and life changing injuries.
Let’s consider the mechanics of a pothole accident for a moment. When a cyclist hits a pothole, the front wheel generally comes to an abrupt halt lifting the rear of the bike and sending its rider head first over the handlebars, although any loss of balance is likely to cause a dismount. The cyclist falls towards the road surface with some force, there is a real risk that they will break a bone or sustain head and facial injuries.
Even if the cyclist is wearing a helmet, they could still suffer some serious head or brain injuries. Cycling helmets are primarily designed to prevent head injury following a one and a half metre fall from the upright position to the road. A helmet may not make much of a difference after an encounter with a pothole if you are thrown off your bike making head and facial injuries quite a high possibility.