Time to show true grit

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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.

Photo Neil Cross'Gritter Phil Smith at the winter road safety campaign launch at  Highways England's new 36-metre-wide salt barn in Garstang, with a capacity for 8,000 tonnes of salt

Photo Neil Cross'Gritter Phil Smith at the winter road safety campaign launch at Highways England's new 36-metre-wide salt barn in Garstang, with a capacity for 8,000 tonnes of salt

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, from Lancaster, 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 lory 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.