Ever since the adoption of the motor car, road works have been a feature of UK motoring life.

Roadworks are necessary for:

  • Upgrades, repairs, and maintenance to roads
  • Upgrades to associated systems like traffic lights, safety barriers, signage
  • Repairs and maintenance to underground utilities (water, gas etc.)


Road closed with diversion in place due to roadworks

Roadworks disruption

Roadworks can cause significant disruption to traffic, increasing journey times due to rerouting or reduced road capacity.

Road works can also cause additional frustration to drivers and local authorities when they are not completed to a sufficient standard. For example, trench defects can cause damage to vehicles and even pose an injury risk to those riding two-wheelers.

And when remedial work is needed, further traffic disruption occurs.

However, highway works are necessary to keep road surfaces in good condition, and to fix potholes.

Thousands of UK motorists suffer pothole-related breakdowns every year. There are an estimated one million potholes nationwide.

Roadworks sign and traffic cone

"Highway works" vs "street works"

"Roadworks" is a term commonly used to describe work done on both actual roads ("Highway works") and apparatus of the street ("street works").

Both of these can impact the flow of traffic.


“Road Works Ahead” Sign: Highway Code & Road Works Safety

A “Road Closed” or "Road Works Ahead" sign indicates there are roadworks taking place, and normal rules (e.g. speed limits etc.) may not apply.

A written sign may be accompanied by a red-bordered triangular sign featuring a person digging a road.

A temporary speed limit sign may also be displayed either as a static sign or a digital sign.

When these signs are present, a number of other roadworks safety rules must be adhered to.

According to
The Highway Code, if you see a "Road Works Ahead" sign:

  • "You MUST NOT exceed any temporary maximum speed limit.
  • Use your mirrors and get into the correct lane for your vehicle in good time and as signs direct.
  • Do not switch lanes to overtake queuing traffic.
  • Take extra care near cyclists and motorcyclists as they are vulnerable to skidding on grit, mud or other debris at road works.
  • Where lanes are restricted due to road works, merge in turn (see Rule 134).
  • Do not drive through an area marked off by traffic cones.
  • Watch out for traffic entering or leaving the works area, but do not be distracted by what is going on there. Concentrate on the road ahead, not the road works.
  • Bear in mind that the road ahead may be obstructed by the works or by slow-moving or stationary traffic.
  • Keep a safe distance – there could be queues in front."


Roadworks in the UK

Who carries out road works in the UK?

Road maintenance and repairs were once carried out "in-house" by local councils and government bodies. However, the Highway Act 1980 allowed private firms to bid for contracts, with a view to making road works more cost- and time-efficient.


New rules governing roadworks

Over time, various rules have been introduced to help ensure roadworks disruption is kept to a minimum. But in early 2024 the Government published proposals to increase fines for firms that overrun their agreed schedule.

The proposals are part of the government's 'Plan for Drivers' policy document, launched in 2023.

£10,000-a-day fine for weekends and Bank Holiday overruns

At present, fines are levied on companies whose road work operations cause disruption on weekdays.

But new proposals aim to extend this £10,000-a-day fine to weekends and Bank Holidays.

Fines may be doubled for condition breaches

The proposals also recommend doubling the current £500 fine for firms who breach conditions of their contract - such as operating without the applicable permits in place.

Car approaching a pothole

Lane rental schemes: More money for potholes?

The new proposals were unveiled to coincide with National Pothole Day, on January 15.

The plans include expanding 'lane rental schemes' - where companies are charged for the time they occupy a section of road. The Government wants to allocate 50% of this income to pothole repairs and other road maintenance tasks.

Roads minister, Guy Opperman, said: “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.”

At present, lane rental charges are highest when street works take place during peak hours. This encourages firms to work during off-peak hours.

Currently the maximum per-day lane rental charge is £2,500.

Machinery and equipment used for roadworks

Credit: Nigel - stock.adobe.com

£100m for road repairs over 10 years

According to the Department for Transport (DfT), the new proposals could generate an extra £100m over the next ten years.

However, since lane rental schemes encourage maintenance companies to minimise the time they spend carrying out road works, the amount of money raised by such a scheme is open to debate.

Additionally, if companies expect to pay more in lane rental fees, tender quotes may rise across the board, resulting in less money for other repairs, such as potholes.


£8.3 billion redirected from HS2 to roads

In November 2023, the government announced that £8.3 billion would be redirected from the HS2 high-speed rail scheme to instead be spent towards the resurfacing of 5,000 miles of the UK's roads.

According to the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, the long-term plan to mend the nation's roads could save the average motorist £440 in repair costs.


Deteriorating roads

According to the Asphalt Industry Alliance (AIA), just over half of the UK's roads (51%) are in good structural condition.

However, the AIA says the remainder may continue to deteriorate and may need to be rebuilt within the next 15 years.


Street works cost the English economy £4bn: DfT

According to the Department for Transport (DfT), there were two million street works carried out in England over the 2022/2023 financial year, which resulted in disruption and road congestion costing the economy £4bn.

However, it notes that such works are necessary so that citizens continue to have access to gas, water and other utility services.


Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) to go digital

The government plans to make all Traffic Regulation Orders available on satnavs - so drivers can see any upcoming road works quickly and easily.


Will new plans reduce roadworks disruption and fix potholes?

Drivers, breakdown providers and citizens in general will be keen to see a reduction in road works and fewer potholes.

Time will tell if incentivising utility companies to complete works more swiftly and/or at off-peak times achieves its goal. And extra funding for repairs and potholes will always be welcome - providing it doesn't in turn create more roadworks disruption.