February 10 2014.

• Number of claims for potholes up 21% between 2012 and 2013

• Fears for further damage to road surfaces if rain continues and temperatures plummet

• Concerns that the closure of rural roads will make access for the emergency services harder

NFU Mutual, the UK’s largest rural insurer, is urging road users to take extra care on rural roads after it revealed that the number of claims it received for pothole-related damage rose by 21% between 2012 and 2013. The insurer has also raised concerns about suggestions that some rural roads in a bad state of repair could be closed altogether due to a lack of funding.

“People who live and work in rural areas already face huge problems with poorly maintained roads, a higher risk of accidents and a lack of gritting during the winter months,” warns Nicki Whittaker, a Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual.

“The rural road network is essential for rural businesses and gives people in rural communities vital access to schools, healthcare and other services. In short, they are the arteries of the countryside and if they are closed-off it will have serious implications for the rural economy.”

There are also concerns that the closure of rural roads will make access for the emergency services harder and potentially put lives at risk. According to a recent report by the Department for Communities and Local Government, homes in predominantly rural areas already have to wait, on average, three minutes longer for the fire brigade to arrive than their urban counterparts* and NFU Mutual is concerned that, if some rural roads are closed because they cannot be repaired, lives may be put at risk.

Whilst the rise in claims is concerning, the insurer is worried that this is just the tip of the iceberg as many motorists might seek recompense directly from the local authority, whilst other motorists might weather the costs themselves rather than claim on their car insurance.

“The situation is particularly worrying at the moment,” Whittaker continued. “Heavy rain and flooding means that many deep potholes may be filled with water and therefore pose a real hazard for the unsuspecting motorist. The problem on rural roads could also be exacerbated if the water currently lying on road surfaces starts to freeze and causes further damage.”