Dangerous drivers have been slammed for ‘undertaking’ road gritting vehicles on the hard shoulder of motorways and putting their own and other people’s lives at risk.
Motorists have also been criticised for swerving onto the hard shoulder in a bid to avoid gritters’ salt hitting their vehicles.
Highways England highlighted the bad driving behaviour at the launch of its new winter road safety campaign.
Now the region’s road bosses are appealing to motorists to drive sensibly in winter conditions, not take unnecessary risks and not be tempted to try to beat the clock by undertaking gritters.
They also offered an assurance that grit will not harm other drivers’ vehicles.
The call came as Highways England showed off its new 36-metre wide salt barn at Stubbins Lane, Claughton on Brock, near Garstang.
The huge state-of-the-art, domed building is large enough to stock 8,000 tonnes of salt to cope with whatever extreme weather conditions winter brings to motorways and main A routes in this part of the region.
Driver Phil Smith, 40, , has been driving gritters for the past decade, working out of the Garstang and Kendal depots and has witnessed first hand motorists’ bad behaviour, estimating he can see up to 12 near misses in a shift.
He 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.”
He recalled: “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 think ‘what if’ when you see something like that happen.”
Gritters usually travel at 40mph in the middle lane of motorways, spreading salt across all three lanes.
Phil added: “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 we’re able to spread salt on all three lanes of the motorway.”
Latest statistics show that on average 16 people die in England every year as a result of collisions on hard shoulders or lay-bys and 45 suffer serious injuries.
Andrew Oliver, North West winter services manager at Highways England, said: “The 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.”
He urged motorists to remember to keep a winter safety kit in their car, including sunglasses to avoid being caught out by low winter sun, ice scraper, de-icer, warm clothes and blankets.
Did you know...
• More than 44,000 tonnes of salt are currently stored at 19 depots across the North West.
• In extreme conditions roads could be gritted up to eight times in 24 hours.
• It would take three hours for every metre of motorway in the region - Cumbria, Lancashire. Merseyside and Greater Manchester - to be gritted.
• The salt comes from Cheshire saltmines.
• Highways England is responsible for gritting all the region’s motorways, the A585 Blackpool/Fleetwood route and major A roads in Cumbria.
• In Lancashire an estimated 16,000 tonnes of salt will be used by Highways England between October 1 and April 30 each year.
• Smaller particles of rock salt are now used and are wetted with brine to stop them bouncing off the road during spreading.
And in Blackpool...
• Blackpool’s gritters cover 110 miles of highways for the town’s drivers.
• The service is ready for action and runs from November 2 to April 3.
• 800 tonnes is currently stored at Layton depot. The annual average is 500/600 tonnes, and the extra has been brought in with no budget rise.
• Coun Fred Jackson, cabinet member for municipal assets, said: “We are well prepared again ahead of this winter, the service is ready now and on standby until April 3.
“As the winter weather arrives, we regularly monitor the forecasts and temperature predictions to make an informed decision on whether to go out gritting or not.
“We remind residents to be prepared and take care when driving. in wintry conditions.”