Driver says hitting pothole ‘was bigger than bus crash’

Chris Cawthorne, 56, claims he has suffered a serious whiplash injury after driving over a massive pothole in Essex.

Chris Cawthorne in a neck brace following the incident. (Chris Cawthorne/SWNS)
Chris Cawthorne in a neck brace following the incident. (Chris Cawthorne/SWNS)

A motorist claims he has suffered a severe whiplash injury after driving over a massive pothole.

Chris Cawthorne says he hit the crater while travelling home from buying a new car for his son, who had also been involved in an accident due to a pothole. The 56-year-old claims he was driving at 40mph in his Focus C-Max when he hit the road hazard, giving him whiplash on a neck that had already been broken.

Cawthorne, from Colchester, described the impact of the crash in May, saying: "As soon as I hit the hole, my head did a big nod. I first broke my neck when I was about 35 while playing football and I knew when I hit the pothole that my neck is weaker than it should be."

Cawthorne was then involved in a low-speed bus crash in October and broke his neck again. He added: "The whiplash on the pothole was a bigger impact than the bus crash."

He is now fighting Essex County Council about how they deal with potholes, which he says leads to delays in repairing them and legal claims being kicked out.

The former financial services officer said: “The pothole I hit had been reported six weeks previously – there were orange marks around it. I put a claim in for personal injury and damage, but it’s been kicked out because the person who reported it did so online rather than doing it by phone.”

Chris Cawthorne hit the pothole while driving in Essex. (Chris Cawthorne/SWNS)
Chris Cawthorne hit the pothole while driving in Essex. (Chris Cawthorne/SWNS)

Cawthorne said contacting the authority over the phone meant staff could establish the seriousness of the pothole and send repairs out sooner. He argued that the website where drivers can complain directs people away from speaking to someone over the phone.

Essex Highways said it aimed to visit “urgent” issues on the same day. A spokesman said: "We are sorry to hear about this gentleman’s accident and wish him a speedy recovery.

“When raised on the phone, risks to public safety can be triaged by our customer service team and escalated directly to the relevant response teams. We aim to assess and visit urgent issues on the same working day and non-urgent issues within an average of 28 days.

"We also carry out routine inspections across the highways network, with priority routes inspected monthly and local roads inspected annually. While there is no legal timeframe, we hold ourselves to a code of practice when repairing potholes."

Essex County Council paid out to just 1.22 per cent of claimants in 2021 after potholes damaged their vehicles, a report from the Daily Gazette revealed.

A large pot hole on residential street in North London
Motorists may be able to claim compensation if their vehicle is damaged by a road. (Getty)

Why does the UK have so many potholes?

The UK is more susceptible to potholes because of its climate. Cold and wet weather, particularly during the winter months, means water can get into cracks in the road and then freeze, eventually leading to potholes. The heavy road use and traffic on the UK's roads is also a factor. Councils also have tight budgets to fix potholes.

How to report potholes?

Anyone who wishes to report a pothole can go to the government's dedicated website for the problem. From there, they will be directed to their local council's pothole reporting service, where they can fill in an online form.

To report the pothole, they need the location of the pothole and details of its size. They must also upload any pictures of the pothole. Councils vow to inspect the area identified within about three to five working days.

If the pothole is on a motorway or an A road then reports should be directed to Highways England.

In Wales, roads are managed by Traffic Wales, while potholes in Scotland can be reported at My Gov Scotland. In Northern Ireland, potholes can be reported through the NI Direct website.

How to claim for pothole damage?

The government says motorists may be able to claim compensation if their vehicle is damaged by a road. They should contact the organisation responsible to tell them about the damage, why they think they are responsible and details of where and when the damage was caused.

According to the AA, motorists should start by reporting the pothole to their local authority. After having their car repaired, they may be able to claim compensation from the council.

Motorists should inform the council of the location of the pothole and include details of quotes, invoices and receipts for their repairs. If the claim is rejected, motorists can appeal.

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