Are there more potholes in Britain than craters on the moon?

2 July 2024
What was claimed

There are 100 times as many potholes in Britain as there are craters on the moon.

Our verdict

This doesn’t appear to be true. There are 1.3 million lunar impact craters between 1-2km recorded in the Lunar Crater Database. We don’t know for certain how many potholes there are in Britain—the RAC claims it’s over one million, but this is a rough estimate based on partial data.

Labour has repeatedly claimed that there are 100 times more potholes on Britain’s roads than there are craters on the moon, but this isn’t supported by the most recent estimate of the number of lunar craters, or broad estimates of the number of potholes in the UK.

Shadow transport minister Bill Esterson made the claim in the House of Commons in May, stating: “Drivers know one thing they’re getting from this government. More potholes. 100 times as many as there are craters on the moon.” The Labour party had also previously briefed that this was the case in April.

This claim has been repeated several times by Mr Esterson, as well as by Labour candidates and on Labour’s social media pages.

The party has also repeated a variation of this claim, without the “100 times” figure, several times during the general election campaign.

In a press release published in April Labour cited a web page which claimed: “Over one million potholes are estimated to exist on UK roads as of 2023.”

The RAC has similarly estimated that the number of potholes on UK roads was over one million in 2023. This was based on Freedom of Information (FOI) data obtained by the Liberal Democrats from 81 of 185 local authorities asked in England. It showed that from those councils that provided data, there were a reported 556,658 potholes in 2021/22. 

The RAC said this figure “would be far higher” if all councils had responded, and that “It's important to note that the FOI request did not including [sic] road defects within Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—this means the true number of potholes in the UK is likely to be two or three times higher than the 556,658 that was reported.”

One million figure is therefore a broad estimate based on partial data, and we’ve not been able to find a more precise estimate for the number of potholes in the UK.

To draw its conclusion, the Labour Party claims there are just over 9,000 craters on the moon—but this appears to refer just to the number of craters recognised by the International Astronomical Union. It is several hundred times lower than the latest counts.

The Lunar Crater Database—archived by the US Geological Survey’s Astrogeology Science Center—contains around 1.3 million lunar impact craters and is “approximately complete for all craters larger than about 1-2 km in diameter”.

In all, more than two million craters were identified when including those smaller than 1 km, but this count is incomplete, a geographer at the Astrogeology Science Center told Full Fact.

Archived on behalf of the NASA Planetary Data System, this count is the most recently published global database of lunar craters.

Politicians and political parties must provide evidence for what they say, and take care not to mislead voters about the options available to them, particularly during the election.

Image courtesy of NASA

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