The People vs Potholes: A court forces Coventry to pay for vehicle damage

September 09, 2011 11:57 AM

Each year motorists spend nearly £320 million on vehicle damage caused by potholes. This week one driver took his council to task for such damages to his car - and ultimately won. The victory left local authorities vulnerable to other motorists seeking damages.

Hamilton Bland, a former BBC sports commentator, sued Coventry council for damages after the council refused to foot the £2,000 repair bill to his car. Mr. Bland was driving through the Coventry suburb of Canley when his car hit potholes that left three of car’s wheels totalled.

The fact that the incident happened in January 2010, when bad weather conditions affected the roads, shouldn’t be an excuse. Coventry council refused to accept any responsibility at all for the event, and the council’s lawyers even sent Mr. Bland a letter threatening a £3,500 counter claim should he lose in court.

If driving over a few potholes can result in tyre damages “beyond repair” something needs to be done. Motorists are taxed excessively with Fuel Duty, Vehicle Excise Duty (that’s ‘road tax’ to you and me), not to mention VAT. At the very least that money should mean that you can drive down the road without causing thousands of pounds worth of damages to your vehicle.

Our 2010 report found that motorists paid approximately £30.2 billion in motoring taxes two years ago. With this huge sum, taxpayers rightly expect that roads are maintained to a decent standard. This is especially true considering our report found that £17.9 billion of that tax revenue was excessive beyond what they might be expected to pay for road maintenance and carbon emissions.

Current rules permit councils to ignore smaller potholes, claiming holes smaller than 4cm deep or 15cm wide are not flagged for immediate repair (within 24 hours). Clearly standards of maintenance in this case came down to a difference of opinion.

The court win may now open the door for other motorists seeking reimbursement for pothole repairs. This is unfortunate, as the council could have prevented this ordeal by keeping roads well maintained.

Actions like these could cost councils - and therefore taxpayers - a lot of money at a time when they are necessarily cutting back on spending. But the key lesson here is that councils have to get their priorities right in order to handle smaller budgets. Key services like bin collections and road maintenance are what the majority of taxpayers pay their council tax for. Politicians and council executives have to look a lot harder at other areas of spending instead of leaving potholes unfilled or switching to fortnightly bin collections.

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