Motoring groups dismiss claims that weight of EVs are to blame for Britain’s pothole crisis

Motoring organisations The AA, RAC and FairCharge have hit back at claims that the weight of electric vehicles is responsible for a decline in the quality of roads. 

According to the latest Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance (ALARM) survey report by the Asphalt Industry Alliance more than half of the local road network in England and Wales is reported to have less than 15 years’ structural life left with the amount needed to fix the backlog of carriageway repairs increasing to a record high of £16.3 billion. 

Following the publication of the report some national media outlets have put the blame for the deteriorating road network on heavier electric vehicles and larger cars which they say are helping push Britain’s crumbling roads to ‘breaking point’. This is despite the ALARM survey not even mentioning electric vehicles at all.

According to one report “EVs cause twice as much stress on tarmac because they greatly outweigh their petrol or diesel equivalents”.

The RAC’s Head of Policy Simon Williams labelled the assertion that EVs are partly to blame for the poor quality of the UK’s roads as “misguided”.

He said: “A long-term lack of investment in local roads from central government is unquestionably the cause as this has led to a 45% reduction in maintenance carried out by councils in England in the last five years alone.

“Shockingly, government data shows 60% of English councils didn’t carry out any life-extending surface dressing work on their roads in the 2022/23 financial year which means existing defects have simply been left to deteriorate. If water gets into any cracks in the road and freezing conditions follow, surfaces crumble and potholes appear as vehicles of any weight pass over them.

“Any attempt to say the weight of EVs is responsible for a decline in the quality of our roads is a distraction from the reality that our roads have been neglected for too long. We badly need to start treating our roads like the national assets they are, instead of poring good money after bad by just filling potholes which are, of course, purely the symptom of a far deeper problem.”

Edmund King, AA President, said the recent headlines “beggared belief”. 

He said: “The current state of the roads is due to years of underspending, sub-standard repairs, roads only being resurfaced every 80 years, and all of this exacerbated by record rainfall over the last nine months. To suggest that the one million EVs on the roads, out of 41.3 million licensed vehicles, are to blame for the potholes is barking. Obviously 44 tonne trucks can add to wear and tear, but it is estimated that on average an EV is about 300lbs heavier than a comparable petrol car, that is the weight of one heavy passenger.  

“Perhaps the next headline should be ‘heavy passengers cause potholes. It beggars belief.”

Quentin Willson, motoring broadcaster and Founder of FairCharge, said: 

“The notion that heavier electric cars are causing a pothole crisis on our roads makes no sense at all. What about all the vans, trucks, fuel tankers, car transporters and 44 tonne HGVs – not to mention all the two tonne SUVs? EVs are definitely not the heaviest vehicles on our roads by a massive margin. This is just another nonsensical EV myth.”

Craig Andrews, Technical Director for leading highway and runway maintenance specialist Foster Contracting, said:

“The failing UK road network is nothing to do with electric vehicles. It’s decades of under funding before EVs ever hit the roads. Cars of any kind have very little impact on a pavement. It’s the HGVs that cause the stress and do the damage.”

Colin Walker, Head of Transport at the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, said:

“Attempts to pin the blame for the UK’s pothole problems on electric vehicles shows that media misinformation about EVs isn’t going away. Rather than making alarmist and unevidenced claims, wouldn’t it be better if our media used its influence to help its readers access the benefits and savings that come from EV ownership? After all, EVs can save their owners as much as £1,300 a year to run – handy savings in the midst of a cost of living crisis. And, increasingly powered by electricity from British windfarms rather than oil imported from abroad, EVs can help secure our energy independence and protect us from future global price shocks.”

Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA) Chair Rick Green commented:

“Our Annual Local Authority Road Maintenace (ALARM) survey reports are based on both qualitative and quantitative feedback received from those responsible for maintaining them and have for many years highlighted the link between highway maintenance funding and the condition of the local road network.

“ALARM 2024, once again, reports that local authorities don’t have the funds to keep the carriageway to their own target conditions and that lack of investment is the reason for continued deterioration and a network in decline. 

“Reasons identified by local authority engineers needing to deal with unforeseen costs included rising traffic volumes and increased average vehicle weights on a deteriorating network. Feedback received from local highway authorities (LHAs) indicates a perception that there may be an impact due to heavier vehicles (with whatever drivetrain) especially on evolved, unclassified roads that would not have been designed to deal with today’s larger and heavier vehicles, let alone HGVs’ total and axle weights.

“So, while we agree with the statement others have made that the blame for potholes can’t solely be placed at the door of EVs, in our view more research needs to be carried out to better understand the mechanisms and potential effects of heavier non-HGV vehicles on both structural and surface road wear factors. This should help inform LHAs when making those difficult technical and economic decisions on the scale, cost and nature of maintenance works.”

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