A new winter road safety campaign is being rolled out in the North West 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.
Phil Smith, 40, from Lancaster, has been driving gritters for a decade. He is based at Highways England’s depot in Garstang, where a new 36-metre-wide salt barn has recently been completed with a capacity for 8,000 tonnes of salt. Phil said:
“It is scary when you’re out on the road and you witness a near-miss. You see drivers doing 70 or 80 miles per hour on the hard shoulder without thinking about what would happen if they hit some debris or another vehicle, or just couldn’t pull back in if there was a car or lorry in their way.
“I remember one time there being a lorry going past my vehicle on the hard shoulder and it swerving back in just in time to avoid hitting a broken down car. Another time a car was undertaking on a section on the M6 near Lancaster where the hard shoulder tapers off as the motorway goes under a bridge. You just think ‘what if’ when you see something like that happen.
“The majority of drivers respect what we do and give us space, only passing when it’s safe to do so. But a few seem to think we’re just there to get in the way and don’t realise we need to be in the middle lane so that we’re able to spread salt on all three lanes of a motorway.
“I’d just encourage drivers who are on the roads when the temperatures are near freezing to allow extra time for their journeys, and not to put their lives at risk by using the hard shoulder to undertake just to avoid getting a bit of salt on their vehicles.”
More than 44,000 tonnes of salt is currently being stored at 19 depots across the North West, enough to cover more than 98,000 miles of motorway – equivalent to travelling nearly four times around the world.
Salt supplies will be topped up throughout the winter and a total of 73 gritters are also on standby in the North West to start spreading salt when temperatures are forecast to dip below freezing, with drivers able to treat every metre of motorway in the region every three hours.
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.
Andrew Olive, Winter Services 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.
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