Ever wondered how winter potholes are formed?

Gavin Braithwaite-Smith
·3-min read
Worst pothole in the UK
Worst pothole in the UK

The Met Office has issued yellow weather warnings for the coming days, as snow is expected to sweep across Scotland and parts of northern England. The winter weather is likely to cause short-term disruption for motorists, but the impact on the roads will be felt long after the snow has cleared.

Winter weather wreaks havoc on Britain’s malnourished roads. A lack of investment, years of neglect and the impact of ice, snow and water leaves some roads resembling the surface of the moon.

According to the RAC Pothole Index, drivers are now 1.5 times more likely to suffer a pothole breakdown than in 2016. This is despite the country being in various stages of lockdown in 2020.

Potholes cost Britain’s motorists £4bn in repair costs every year. Hit one, and you risk damaging the car’s wheels, tyres, steering, suspension or bodywork. You can click here to find out how to claim compensation for pothole damage.

According to Roadmender Asphalt, a company that specialises in sustainable road repair, we are now entering ‘prime pothole season’. It has developed an Elastomac product that will continue to be trialled with councils post-lockdown. It’s a flowable repair material made from recycled products that welds itself to the road and delivers a totally waterproof permanent repair.

The company says that by eliminating the need to excavate the patch, the process requires 80 percent less material with no waste to carry away. Contractors are able to complete five times more patches a day.

How are potholes formed?

Pothole road
Pothole road

Roads are constructed in layers. The top layer is water-resistant and curved to drain water off the road. Over time, cracks appear due to the stresses caused by traffic, but also through constant heating and cooling. The road expands during the day, but contracts overnight.

These small cracks allow water to seep below the surface and into the underlying layers of the road. During cold nights, the water freezes and expands. This ice thaws during the day, with the water flowing into a different section of the road. The pavement contracts and leaves gaps in the surface, where water can be trapped.

Traffic causes these cracks to widen, allowing even more water to seep in and freeze during the night. This constant freeze-thaw cycle weakens the road surface. As the material is breaks down, a pothole is formed.

Earlier this year, it emerged that the UK ranks 37th out of 141 countries on the World Economic Forum’s road quality index. The Netherlands finished top, which is hardly surprising given the fact that 62 percent of the Dutch government’s investment into infrastructure is spent on the road network.

To combat the pothole problem, the government has enlisted the help of delivery companies to create a pothole map of the UK. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “I want our roads to be as safe as possible, so during the lockdown we’ve resurfaced hundreds of miles of road. But now I want to go further by identifying critical potholes and ensuring these are fixed as quickly as possible.

“We’re teaming up with delivery companies, who know the roads well, in order to map out where remaining potholes exist and then relentlessly target them with our record £2.5 billion pothole repair fund. Better road surfaces benefit motorists and cyclists alike ensuring the back to school and work environment is safer for everyone.”


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