A new winter road safety campaign is being rolled out in our county warning drivers they could be putting their lives at risk if they use the hard shoulder to undertake gritters.
Highways England’s gritter drivers have noticed a growing problem with road users veering into the hard shoulder to avoid being struck by salt, risking a collision with a stationary vehicle and causing a hazard when gritters try to come off at junctions.
The latest statistics show that, on average, 16 people lose their lives every year as a result of collisions on hard shoulders or in laybys across England, and 45 suffer a serious injury.
Drivers are being asked not to take unnecessary risks this winter to help keep the region’s motorways and major A roads moving and safe.
Gritters usually travel at 40mph in the middle lane when they are spreading salt on a three-lane motorway, treating the lane they are in and one lane on either side.
Drivers are being advised to only pass a gritter when it is safe to do so, avoiding using the hard shoulder and checking for hazards ahead.
Gritter drivers Ben Jackson and Gareth Ray, take part in winter maintenance operations in the East between October and April each year.
Ben, 32, said: “We’re both fully trained gritter operators so we’re on the gritting rota throughout the winter, and can even be on-call 24/7 when the weather gets bad.
“When you’re in your gritter, you’re out there on your own most of the time. You let the Regional Control Centre know when you are out and back, and of course your team mates know, but that’s it.
“I’ve not had any bumps so far, luckily, but I’ve had a few near misses when gritting. It’s especially difficult when you get to the end of a motorway section and try to get off.
There’s a flow of cars undertaking you faster than you’re driving so you have to plan your next move well in advance!”
Gareth, 36, added: “I’m quite new to driving gritters, so seeing how some people react when I am on my gritting route can be scary sometimes.
“Both car and lorry drivers tend to follow too close behind, then overtake or undertake all of a sudden. I’ve even had times when people have overtaken my gritter, swerved right in front of me and slammed the brakes.
“A gritter simply can’t drive any faster than 40mph, or else it’s not doing its job properly. And it also weighs 22 tonnes when fully loaded with salt and brine solution, so we have to think carefully how we manoeuvre in advance.”
They added: “One of our colleagues was involved in a serious collision last year. He was gritting on lane 1 of the M1 when a lorry drove straight into the back of his gritter. He had to go to hospital and is still suffering from back problems. And the gritter was seriously damaged and out of action for the rest of the season.
“We appreciate that nobody wants to be stuck behind a large vehicle travelling at 40 miles per hour, but in this case, it really is for the benefit of road users.
“We’d ask drivers to plan their journeys properly and leave enough time for travel this winter. We’d also urge people to stay safe and not use the hard shoulder to undertake.”
Motorists and other road users are also being asked to play their part by driving sensibly and making sure they have a winter kit in their vehicles, including an ice scraper and de-icer, warm clothes and blankets, and sunglasses to cope with the low winter sun.
Debbie Harvey, East Assistant Winter Service Manager at Highways England, added: “Our gritter drivers will be out in all weathers again this winter and we’re encouraging road users to do their bit to help keep the region’s motorways and major A roads moving.
“The vast majority of people support our gritter drivers by keeping back a sensible distance and only passing when it’s safe to do so, but a few have been putting themselves and others at risk by using the hard shoulder to undertake gritters.
“We’re also encouraging drivers to make sure they’ve got a winter kit in their vehicle so they don’t get caught out by the weather. That could be as simple as having a pair of sunglasses in the glove locker so you’re not struggling to see in the low winter sun.”
More details on staying safe on the roads this winter are available at www.metoffice.gov.uk/winterhighways.