HALIFAX: Despite criticism from an opposition party, the provincial government is defending a program to help motorists receive compensation for road hazards.

Last week, the NDP announced it received a response to a freedom of information request that showed that fewer than eight per cent of claims filed through a program meant to help when vehicles are damaged by potholes or hazards are successful. The Road Hazards Claims and Investigations Program is meant to help people whose vehicles are damaged on provincial roads. Last year, of the 910 claims made, only 47 were successful, the NDP said.

“Every winter we hear from people whose cars are damaged because of potholes and they’re stuck with hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars in repairs,” said Susan Leblanc, NDP transportation and infrastructure renewal critic. “But under this Liberal government, people rarely get the help they need. It is unacceptable that when someone’s vehicle is damaged because of the condition of provincial infrastructure they very, very rarely get compensated. People should be able to rely on the government to maintain the roads.”

In the last five years, the NDP said the number of successful complaints has dropped every year. In 2014/2015, almost eight per cent of claims were successful and only five per cent of claims were approved last year.

The NDP charged that the province is able to avoid paying for damage caused by potholes because they are only liable if they know about the pothole.

“The Liberal government is responsible for the state of our road infrastructure, and that means they should be liable when the poor condition of roads causes serious damage to people’s cars,” said Leblanc. “The current rules give the government all the power.”

Once the government is aware of a hazard, NDP said the department decides on the amount of time it has to fix the problem before they would be liable for the cost. The timeline is based on the surface maintenance response timetable published in the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal’s (DTIR) “Highway Maintenance Standards.” The department can give themselves anywhere from seven to 14 days based on the size of the pothole but can also extend the period based on weather or the availability of repair crews.

Marla MacInnis, media relations advisor with the DTIR, responded that claims are processed by Service Nova Scotia and Internal Services and one standard is the time between the province knowing about a hazard and fixing it. Another factor is the size of a hazard.

“When processing a claim, a determination is made as to whether these standards were met,” MacInnis noted. “Once TIR is made aware of a pothole, the service standards clock begins. If TIR is aware of a pothole and the service standard to fix the pothole has elapsed, then there could be compensation to the driver.”

MacInnis said the department is made aware of potholes through road patrols by staff and public reports to the Operations Contact Centre at 1-844-696-7737.

“The number of claims that receive compensation fluctuates each year based on a number of factors such as weather and road conditions and the number of people who choose to file a claim,” MacInnis added.