It’s been a big couple of weeks in the world of potholes.
First the Local Government Association (LGA) came out warning that the cost to clear the road maintenance backlog in England could grow to £14 billion by 2019, and that only a major increase in funding – the LGA suggests taking 2p from the current rate of fuel duty and ring fencing it for road improvement – will reverse the spiralling bill.
Next ministers hit back by announcing how they will allocate £1.2 billion for road maintenance in the next financial year, arguing that a large chunk of this cash is extra money especially earmarked to fight the epidemic of pitted and rutted roads many of us will be familiar with.
Then the initial draft of a report commissioned by the RAC Foundation arrived at our Pall Mall offices and gave another reason why – from a smooth surface to clearly painted lines – we will need our roads to be in tip-top condition in the years ahead; namely the introduction of autonomous vehicles (AVs).
The study argues that the state of the infrastructure – which also includes adequate road-side communication equipment to enable AVs to ‘connect’ to the world around them – will be key to reaping the benefits that driverless cars potentially offer.
Anything that makes computer-controlled vehicles ponderous will impede traffic flow, something recognised by yet another report out this week – this time for government – which warns that congestion might actually worsen in the medium term.
It suggests that AVs will drive more defensively to account for the unpredictable movements of the millions of human-controlled cars that will still be on the road for decades to come.
Of course, as the LGA could tell you, good infrastructure will not be cheap – either to provide nor maintain.
Yet in its absence, highways authorities are likely to leave themselves open not just to criticism but also court cases. Currently most accidents are down to human error.
While motorists might be removed from the equation when AVs come along, insurance companies and courts will still need someone to blame when things go wrong and that will either be the car manufacturers or the infrastructure providers.