Caithness driving instructors have revealed how potholes have a serious impact on their job, with one calling it a “soul destroyer” and another declaring: “The roads are literally crumbling on we.”
The owners of three local driving schools have spoken out in favor of the Caithness Roads Recovery campaign group and warned of the added stress placed on learner drivers.
In a few instances, instructors pointed out damage to their vehicles by hitting the county’s crumbling pavements.
“We try to teach them a safe way to drive – but we don’t have safe roads to drive on,” said Adam Hendry, who has run Adam’s Wick-based Driving School for 14 years.
“It was never a problem before, but now it has become a problem. There are now sections of the road where you have to remember where the pothole is so you can actually tell your student where it is so he can miss it – otherwise it will just break my car.
“Usually we’re on the road every day, so our cars are in constant danger. It takes a really good memory of where the potholes are to tell your student when they come to say “keep to the left”, “keep to the right” or just “slow down”.
“It might not just be a pothole, it could be a whole series.
“It might only be a few hundred yards, but it’s those few hundred yards that you really have to slow down.
“You can teach someone safe driving and they can hit a pothole and be in an accident through no fault of their own. “
Mr Hendry said he fully supports Caithness Roads Recovery’s campaign for investment in local roads.
“Since they came in contact with me I have been completely behind them and what they are trying to do,” he said. “It’s not just an area of Caithness – you can go to the Caithness scale and find the same issues.
“The roads are literally collapsing on us. “
Nicola Mowat has 34 years of experience as a driving instructor at Nicola Mowat Driver Training, based in Thurso. She said the state of the roads made her consider giving up.
“It has only gotten worse in recent years,” Ms. Mowat said. “When the lockdown took place I found another job with the NHS and considered not resuming driving lessons and my main reason was the state of the roads.
‘I just got back part time now, I’m still in the NHS – but like I said that was the main reason I didn’t want to go back – it’s just soul destroyer, roads.
“I had a broken spring on my car and just had it fixed last weekend.
“It’s hard enough driving yourself, trying to miss all the potholes, but trying to get a student to do it …, look at this bit.” It is not fair to them.
“I avoid certain intersections as much as possible because of the state of the roads.
“Turning onto Towerhill Road in Thurso it’s so bad you avoid it even though it’s a test route. You know you have to teach it, but you don’t teach it as much as you should be teaching it because you wouldn’t have a car anymore.
“You should teach them to look far ahead and anticipate dangers, but you know full well that they are stressed because they are looking for potholes. But they shouldn’t have to look for potholes, because the road should be passable – and it isn’t.
“You can’t expect the roads to be perfect, but you want them to be passable, that’s the thing. You can’t afford to keep putting new springs on your car.
She added: “I am delighted with what Iain Gregory and Helen Campbell are doing.”
Gary Sinclair of Gary’s Wick Driving School estimated that only about 10% of road surfaces need repair.
“The roads we use within a four or five mile radius of Wick, 90% of those roads are okay. It just appears to be a bunch of bad roads, ”he said.
“I have been a driving school instructor for four years. In the first three years of being a driving instructor, I wouldn’t really need to discuss the road surface as such.
“You need to educate learners about the dangers on the road – be it pedestrians, motorcyclists, cars, buses, trucks. You need to educate them about the dangers of other road users, and you need to educate them about the conditions of the roads they are going to train on – whether dry, wet, icy.
“But it is certain that the surface of the road also enters a lot in our yards, because of the potholes. And that’s something we didn’t really have to discuss three years ago when I started.
“One of the things I try to explain to learners is that even though potholes are difficult for cars, sometimes it’s not necessarily the pothole that’s the problem, it is the speed at which they came.
“Sometimes you just can’t avoid the pothole. If there’s traffic coming towards you, you can’t avoid it – you just have to adjust your speed and drive through the pothole. -pulses at a speed which is not difficult for the car. “
Mr Sinclair explained that one of his students hit a pothole at the top of Newton Hill during a driving test when he was not going faster than 25 mph. As a result, a new triangle had to be installed on the vehicle.
“A triangle on a three-year-old car should be unheard of,” Sinclair said. I know this is a driving instructor’s car and will wear out on top of the regular car, but a triangle shouldn’t go from a car – not at three … And it is only because of the state of the roads.
“It is definitely becoming a problem. Everything is fine in the daylight right now because you see the potholes, but we’re going to lose that daylight soon and it will be a bigger problem.
“I don’t like to be too hard on the board because the majority of the roads are good – it just seems like a bunch of bad bits.”
Caithness Roads Recovery co-founders Iain Gregory and Helen Campbell met with Mr. Hendry and Mr. Sinclair last Sunday to examine some of the worst affected sections in and around Wick.
Mr Sinclair said: “Some of the other driving instructors were away this weekend or they would have been there too.”
He added: “It’s only when you see the photographs and stop by the potholes that you realize how bad they really are.”
Mr Gregory said: “We are very grateful to Adam and Gary for sharing their experiences with us. As the holder of a Scottish Police Class 1 Advanced Driving Certificate, I am very much in favor. agree with the very valid concerns raised by these experienced professionals.
“The area around Newton Hill in particular is utter shame and it baffles me that the Highland Council keeps repeating that the law“ does not say that roads are to be entirely free of defects. ”One wonders if we are occupying different planets. “
Ms Campbell said: “It is very sad to hear how much driving schools and learner drivers are also suffering from the appalling condition of our roads. We are seeing one or two more robust repairs, but they are very rare and we need much, much more to make our roads safe again.
“Our campaign aims to highlight how our roads affect people living in Caithness and we are desperate for a return to a more normal life.
“We don’t care how we got to this point. What we’re interested in is having someone take ownership now and make a contingency plan on how and when our roads will be properly funded and recovered. “