The UK Government has proposed new measures designed to deter utility companies from letting roadworks overrun.

A consultation has been announced on plans including extending the current £10,000-per-day fine for overrunning works, which currently only applies to working days, to weekends and bank holidays, and doubling the possible fines for companies that breach conditions of the job from £500 to a maximum of £1,000.

Another proposal is to direct at least 50% of the money from lane rental schemes – which allow local highway authorities to charge companies for the time that works occupy the road – towards improving road surfaces and repairing potholes.

In addition, the government has announced plans to digitalise traffic regulation orders, which cover topics such as the location of parking spaces, road closures, and speed limits. It says this would make them available to sat-nav systems, and that it could pave the way for more reliable autonomous vehicles.

Roads Minister Guy Opperman said: “Being stuck in traffic is infuriating for drivers. Too often traffic jams are caused by overrunning street works.

“This government is backing drivers, with a robust approach to utility companies and others, who dig up our streets. We will seek to massively increase fines for companies that breach conditions and fine works that overrun into weekends and bank holidays while making the rental for such works help generate up to an extra £100 million to improve local roads.”

Reacting to the government’s announcement, AA president Edmund King said: “Overrunning roadworks and poorly reinstated roads from utility companies frustrate drivers and cause unnecessary congestion, and trench defects can damage vehicles and injure those on two wheels.

“We are pleased that the government is looking to extend the fines for over-running street works, invest more of the surplus fines in roads and ensure that those who dig up the roads repair them to a high and timely standard.”

RAC head of policy Simon Williams said: “Drivers shouldn’t have to put up with temporary roadworks for any longer than is necessary, so we’re pleased to see the government is looking to do more to guarantee that utility companies minimise disruption by carrying out roadworks as quickly and efficiently as possible. 

“They should also leave roads in better condition than they found them, which unfortunately is hardly ever the case at the moment.”

The measures have been announced on the same day the RAC revealed that the number of pothole-related call-outs its patrols attended in 2023 had jumped by a third compared with 2022.

It said its patrols went to 29,377 breakdowns in 2023 – the equivalent of 80 breakdowns a day – for faults including broken suspension springs, damaged shock absorbers and distorted wheels.

In addition, the RAC said the pothole call-out figures for the fourth quarter of 2023 were the highest for that period since 2017, and warned the picture was only likely to worsen in the first quarter of 2024.

Williams said: “Potholes are so much more than an irritation – they are a very serious danger to all road users which we fear will only get worse as the weather gets colder during these next few months.

“Local councils have been cash-strapped for years due to lower road maintenance budgets, causing roads across the country to fall into disrepair and leaving drivers fighting for compensation when their vehicles are inevitably damaged.

“Fortunately, the Government has committed an extra £8.3bn of funding to local councils over the next 11 years, which we hope will give squeezed authorities some certainty of cash to help them plan consistent longer-term maintenance. Now we urge the Department for Transport to lay out clear guidance as to how this money should be best used so that councils can actually improve their roads for the future.”