Honda engineers wanted special track in Japan to replicate UK’s terrible road surfaces
By David Hencke and Keith Perry | 10 April 2013
“UK roads have a rougher surface, which creates more road noise than other European roads” – Honda spokesman
Britain is streets ahead of its rivals when it comes to the latest export to Japan – potholed roads with rough and noisy surfaces.
Roads are so bad in the UK that Honda, the Japanese car manufacturer, has taken extraordinary measures to prepare its new vehicles.
Honda engineers have recreated in Japan a typical British road to test their new cars to ensure that they are robust enough – and have sufficient sound-proofing – for the UK market. The move is embarrassing to the array of UK authorities that are responsible for roads in the country.
According to Honda, the roads in Japan are too good to simulate the harsh driving conditions in the UK. So it has copied the uneven surfaces found on typical UK highways often blamed for hefty repair bills for drivers.
The manufacturer says that UK roads absorb more water than the harder surfaces used in continental Europe. When the water freezes, it expands and cracks road surfaces, resulting in the classic English pothole.
It has faithfully reproduced a UK road at its Takasu centre in Hokkaido, Japan. The 6.8km track even has British road signs for added realism.
A Honda spokesman told Exaro: “The road surfaces in continental Europe, especially in the North, are paved with hard material that does not absorb water. This is because, in severe winter, absorbed water in the material may freeze, turn into ice and destruct the roads.
“England does not tend to suffer with this severe winter, and so the surface is made with softer materials with many pores to absorb rain to prevent a slippery surface.
“As a result, UK roads have a rougher surface, which creates more road noise than other European roads. What Honda wanted to replicate in Takasu was this type of road surface. Rough does not mean badly maintained or pot-holes. It means the different material.”
And Honda faced another challenge in testing cars to be sold in the UK. The spokesman explained: “The uniqueness of UK roads is the roundabout. In certain rural UK areas, roundabouts create a situation where high stopping power, agile acceleration response and high manoeuvrability is required.
“There is no such situation in Japan because there are hardly any roundabouts. All the models to be sold in Europe are tested on these roads.”
Honda says that the high-speed track “redefines the limits of circular-course functionality,” and includes other features to test cars for UK roads, such as sharp turns. Hokkaido also suffers sub-zero temperatures, just like the UK’s increasingly bitter winters.
Poor road conditions in the UK have infuriated drivers for years. Last year, councils in England and Wales paid nearly £23 million in compensation for pothole damage, with the average cost of repair at £220.
Chris Peck, policy officer of the Cyclists’ Touring Club, said that several cyclists die in crashes as a result of potholes each year, while 15 per cent of legal claims that it handles stem from road defects.
After two cold winters, the UK government commissioned a “pothole review” in April 2011. A month earlier, it allocated an extra £200 million for local highway authorities because of a “significant increase in the number of potholes on an already fragile local highway network”.
But this figure is dwarfed by a backlog of road maintenance that runs into billions of pounds, according to a report by the consumer magazine, Which?
In England, the cost of outstanding repairs has grown from an average of £53 million per local authority in 2009 to £61 million last year, said the magazine.
However, the figures show that in six of the nine regions, the need for repairs has fallen since its peak in 2011. In Wales, the costs backlog grew slightly, from £22m in 2009 to £23m in 2012.
These are the costs to fix potholes and all other “surface repairs”.
And this is despite £5.9 million spent in total by councils in the North East of England to fill in 147,500 potholes last year, while local authorities in the South West poured in £15.4 million to repair 334,800 holes.
The cost to fix every damaged road, aside from motorways and A-roads, in England is nearly £52,600 per mile, said the Which? report.