Road safety campaign targets gritter undertakers in Hertfordshire

Highways England East region gritter drivers Ben Jackson and Gareth Ray

Highways England East region gritter drivers Ben Jackson and Gareth Ray - Credit: Archant

A new winter road safety campaign is targeting ‘gritter undertakers’ and highlighting dangerous hard shoulder driving.

Motorists in Welwyn Hatfield are being urged not to take unnecessary risks this winter to help keep the region’s motorways and major A roads moving and safe.

Highways England is warning drivers they could be putting their lives at risk if they use the hard shoulder to undertake gritters.

The Government-owned company’s East of England division maintains and operates the A1(M) and M1 in Hertfordshire. The M25 is dealt with by another region.

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.

Highways England's hard shoulder gritter undertaking campaign is warning drivers not to use the hard

Highways England's hard shoulder gritter undertaking campaign is warning drivers not to use the hard shoulder to undertake gritters on motorways and major A roads. - Credit: Archant

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.

Fortunately there have been no fatalities in the county as a result of this problem, but there have been a number of close calls, including one on the M1 between Junctions 8 and 9 last year.

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Based at Highways England’s Breakspear depot in the county, drivers Ben Jackson and Gareth Ray take part in winter maintenance operations in the East of England between October and April each year.

Mr Jackson, 32, said: “I’ve not had any bumps so far, luckily, but I’ve had a few near misses when gritting on lane three of the M1 [which is four lanes wide in this area].

“It’s especially difficult when you get to the end of your 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.”

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.

Road users 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.

Mr Ray, 36, said: “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.”

The pair added: “One of our colleagues was involved in a serious collision last year.

“He was gritting on lane one 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.”

* More details on staying safe on the roads this winter are available at