They have spread like a virus, are hard to spot and can be extremely uncomfortable — after the wettest winter since records began, Britain is in the grip of a pothole epidemic.

Potholes are caused by underlying water beneath the tarmac, which is aggravated by traffic passing over it, and rural roads are the worst affected.

Rural insurer NFU Mutual told H&H that claims for pothole incidents on country roads are up 21% in 2013 from the year before.

“People who live in rural areas already face huge problems with poorly maintained roads,” said NFU’s Nicki Whittaker.

“Recently, we have seen many horseboxes and trailers that have been damaged because they have driven over potholes.

“The wet weather has also meant that many deep potholes are filled with water and therefore difficult to spot — which is dangerous as a rider or a driver.”

vehicle wheel in pothole on road uk

But it’s not just your transport that is at risk. Ms Whittaker urged riders to watch out too.

“What might look like a harmless puddle may actually be a pothole and could injure your horse,” she added.

“Riders should also be sensible if moving into the centre of the road to avoid a pothole, as this makes them more vulnerable to oncoming traffic.”

Lee Hackett of the British Horse Society (BHS) said the safety team had received a number of calls about pothole accidents.

The society is urging people to consider how deep holes may be below standing water when riding or transporting horses.

Riders affected

H&H reader Jackie Alexander lives between Hereford and Worcester and said the roads have become “diabolical”.

“The potholes are huge and we have to veer when we are travelling our horses, to try to avoid hitting a deep cavity,” she said. “This is obviously dangerous and so far we have lost a wheel trim and punctured a tyre on the trailer.”

Eventer Ginny Howe told H&H there were “loads” of potholes in her area in Oxon.

“It’s not just mud and surface water we’ve had to contend with, but some massive potholes too,” she said.

“Thankfully my big truck doesn’t feel them too badly, but my car has had a puncture.”

In the news

Potholes have hit national headlines recently.

A 15ft deep pothole was found on the M2 in Kent, and in Hull a driver reportedly “came within inches” of mowing down a girl after his car hit a pothole.

Last week, widow Kate Uzzell was reported to be suing a council after a pothole caused the death of her husband.

Cyclist Martin Uzzell was killed after hitting a 4in deep pothole on a charity bike ride in North Yorkshire in 2011 and being hit by a car. At the inquest last week, the coroner said there was “no doubt whatsoever that the condition of the road on that occasion was the cause of the incident”.

Cycling Weekly’s Hugh Gladstone told H&H potholes are an “ongoing concern” with his readers.

Councils take action

The issue is a nationwide concern and councils urge riders to report potholes. Many have specific online forms.

The Highways Agency said it has “very stringent measures” regarding fixing potholes, due to the “type and volume of traffic” on trunk roads and motorways.

But local councils are most affected.

Hertfordshire Council paid 1,300 claimants nearly £99,000 in compensation between 2012-13 and spends millions every year on repairs.

Devon County Council said the number of potholes reported on Devon’s roads has increased from 2,000 in December to 7,500 in January, and a further 7,900 in February.

Cllr Stuart Hughes of Devon County Council said: “We are hoping to receive additional funding from the Government to help us repair the damage caused by the wettest winter on record.

“We have increased pothole repair teams from 13 to 34 in the past month to try to tackle the problem. We carry out regular inspections of Devon’s roads, but because our 8,000-mile road network is the biggest of any authority in the country, we rely on the public being our eyes and ears.”

Cllr Vernon Smith of Gloucestershire County Council said the busiest roads in the county are inspected at least every month and in the past year nearly 50,000 potholes had been fixed in the area.

“It is our priority is to fix unsafe potholes immediately, while smaller potholes are programmed to be repaired within 28 days,” he said.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (20 March, 2014)