Pothole crisis: Should NZTA, councils pay for vehicles damaged by poorly maintained roads?

The state of New Zealand's roads is under fire and potholes are causing headaches for motorists and experts alike - but if you were hoping to bill the council for damages caused by poorly maintained roads, you're probably out of luck.

Vehicles damaged by potholes are not a new thing, with more than 120 Northland motorists over the last several years having their request for compensation declined from NZTA, according to data obtained by The Northern Advocate under the Official Information Act. 

Last month, Central Tyre and Automotive manager Ryan Merson told AM his Taranaki garage fixed between 30 and 40 cars on a single Friday with rims and tyres wrecked by potholes in the region. 

And he's not alone. The AA told Newshub New Zealand's roads are underfunded and in a terrible state.

"Our roads are in the worst condition that many people have ever seen. There are a range of factors playing a part in that but the biggest one is that there hasn’t been enough investment going into road repairs and maintenance for many years," AA road safety spokesperson Dylan Thomsen said. 

Thomsen said AA's analysis from 2020 estimated the Government needed to spend $900 million more over the next three years to catch up on the work needed. 

"The potholes and damage people are seeing out on the roads all around the country are a symptom of years of under-investment in road maintenance," he said. 

Road safety campaigner Geoff Upson has been on a mission to get potholes fixed. He started by spray painting penises on potholes in a bid to get them repaired, but he's turned to putting rubber ducks in them.

"Every year it seems to be getting worse and worse," he told The Project last month.

Newshub talked to people in the industry to gauge the interest in having NZTA and councils around New Zealand pay compensation for damage caused by potholes. 

In the UK, this is a common occurrence with drivers getting hundreds of dollars for repairs to vehicles damaged by potholes. 

Councils and road authorities have paid out nearly NZD$25 million in compensation over the past four years, with each claim getting on average $660.

Motorists submitted more than 145,000 compensation claims between January 2018 and October 2021, according to information released under a Freedom of Information (FOI) request from What Car?

Auckland Transport 

Auckland Transport told Newshub as a rule, they don’t pay out compensation for cars damaged by potholes and it's not something they're considering.

"Aucklanders consistently tell us they want value for money and we need to make sure we spend public funds appropriately to improve the road network for all road users," a spokesperson told Newshub. 

"We appreciate people’s frustration at this time of the year as we battle against the weather, but we are committed to working as quickly as possible to ensure potholes are repaired across Auckland." 

AT said they have over 7660km of roads to take care of - including 818km of unsealed roading - and have a process for fixing potholes swiftly if they know about them.

"The weather now means we are facing an unprecedented level of maintenance requests and we are working through these as quickly as possible."

They urge Aucklanders to slow down and drive to the conditions and if they see any potholes to contact them by filling out this form.  

National Road Carriers 

National Road Carriers CEO Justin Tighe-Umbers told Newshub NZTA and councils are not doing enough to keep New Zealand's roads up to standard as they are in an "extremely poor state of repair". 

But Tighe-Umbers said isn't keen to see councils start paying out compensation to drivers. 

"We would rather they focus their finances and efforts on fixing the reason why the potholes exist in the first place," Tighe-Umbers said. 

"The current methodology and system for building and maintaining roads are not fit for purpose."

AA road safety spokesperson Dylan Thomsen said New Zealand's roads "are in the worst condition that many people have ever seen".
AA road safety spokesperson Dylan Thomsen said New Zealand's roads "are in the worst condition that many people have ever seen". Photo credit: AM


AA told Newshub the level of concern from their members about the quality of road surfaces and potholes has been increasing over recent years. 

Thomsen said it's not a "black and white issue" of whether councils and NZTA should be paying compensation. 

"It’s never going to be a totally black and white issue as the specific circumstances in each case may make compensation more or less justified," Thomsen said.  

"The unfortunate reality for anyone suffering damage from a pothole is that compensation is normally only paid out in rare circumstances, so your chances of success with a claim are not high. 

"One of the key aspects will be whether the authorities knew about the pothole or problem and what they had done after becoming aware of it."

Thomsen said a pothole needing urgent temporary repair is expected to happen within 48 hours of the contractors knowing of it.