We’ve left the EU, and it seems we’ve lost the ability to maintain our roads too.
That’s the overwhelming view held by the majority of UK drivers who’ve driven abroad recently.
They believe other European countries put the UK’s potholed-plagued streets to shame, according to research by RAC Europe.

Breaking up

The results are in and the opinions are unwavering – British roads are worse than our neighbours and things aren’t improving.

This year’s Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey by the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA), made bleak reading. Published in April this year, it was the most damning report of the state of our roads on record.

According to the research conclusions, average highway maintenance budgets across England and Wales have increased by 4.5% to £25.8 million per authority. However, more than half (53%) of local authorities reported a cut or freeze in their highway maintenance budget.

In fact, when inflation is taken into account, the total highway maintenance budget of £4.33 billion represents a cut in real terms.

Backlogs in repairs have been building for well over a decade as austerity has seen local authority budgets cut, and government money focused on new carriageways.

The rising costs have been exacerbated by inflationary pressures. Engineers are being forced to postpone or cancel road schemes to make savings.

According to local authorities themselves, the gap between funding and what is needed to keep roads at target conditions and prevent further decline is now £1.3bn. It represents a jump of more than 20% on last year’s figure. It is the highest amount reported in 28 years of successive ALARM surveys.

Road to nowhere

In the new RAC survey, as many as 72% of drivers who have experience of driving abroad think the condition of roads – such as the number and severity of potholes – is worse in the UK than in other countries, with just 8% saying the UK fares better.

This is a far cry from from the general opinions a decade ago, and it isn’t just structural issues.

Now more than six-in-10 (62%) say roadside litter is less of a problem abroad than it is this side of the Channel. This compares to the tiny 7% who think the UK roads are the cleanest.

Seeing the signs

Of the 14 different aspects of roads and driving the RAC asked drivers to compare between the UK and other European countries, the UK comes out better on just one.

It seems our road signs are easier to understand, though the fact we have grown up with essentially the same signs throughout our lives may have something to do with that.

While 38% of drivers say they find UK signs more straightforward than those abroad, this is hardly a vote of great confidence. Nearly half (49%) believe there is little or no difference and 13% say they find foreign road signs clearer.

Steep incline

On the issue of motorway driving speeds, around half (53%) of drivers said they see little difference in the number of people driving excessively fast, whether they are at home or abroad. However, a third (32%) still said the problem was less prevalent in other countries.

And while half (51%) said they can’t tell the difference between the standard of driving of UK drivers and their counterparts elsewhere in Europe, 28% still felt foreign motorists drive better – compared to just a fifth (21%) who think UK motorists do.

Overall, four-in-10 drivers felt the experience of driving abroad is better abroad than it is in the UK. This is despite the fact that they are driving on the other side of the road from that they are used to. Add in different styles of signage, different language and supposedly lower levels of driver training and a view the UK driving test is one of the strictest.

Only a quarter (24%) saying they prefer getting behind the wheel this side of the Channel.

A bumpy ride

RAC Europe spokesperson Rod Dennis describes the results as “utterly damning”.

It seems to be another road of declining standards in British culture compared to our closest neighbours. Even the sea that flows between us and the continent appears to be suffering from water companies  failures to uphold, or even improve previous standards.

“We’ve said for years that given the amount drivers pay in tax, it’s verging on the ridiculous that they have to endure no end of potholes when driving at home,” Dennis continues. “It’s clear from what drivers have told us they seem to forget all about potholes once they’ve left the UK, with unanimous agreement that foreign roads are simply better.

“But it’s not just the pothole crisis that beleaguers the UK. Drivers tells us there is far less roadside litter abroad, and the visibility of painted road markings and traffic congestion – both in urban areas and on motorways – are both much better elsewhere in Europe. It’s perhaps little wonder then that around half of all the drivers we surveyed (48%) have enjoyed driving abroad,” he adds.

Gone are the. usual stresses of acclimatisation and worries over standards of driving, tarmac or signage.

It is is yet another worrying result in surveys and reports assessing motoring and road safety in the UK. Potholes and road surfaces are worse, drink driving increasing, speeding accelerating, road casualties rising, and all taking place to a background of increasing financial costs for motorists.

Read more about the report here.