Road safety crisis

Lack of salt endangering lives on local roads

5 February 2009

A gritting lorry in action

A road safety crisis is developing on many local roads and pavements due to a shortage of salt, according to the AA.

Several local authorities have either run out of salt or have such low stock levels that very few roads are being gritted. The worst areas appear to be in Wiltshire, Hertfordshire, Surrey, Derbyshire and parts of Wales. The AA is concerned that with weather forecasts showing another 4or 5 days of freezing temperatures and snow that many roads will become death traps.

Cities like St Albans in Herts are unable to cope. The main street through the city (A5138) is in a treacherous state with ice and snow and vehicles this morning unable to leave St Albans via St Stephens Hill (main link out to the M25/M1). Herts used 4,000 tonnes of salt between Monday and Wednesday but now stocks are limited.

The situation concerning supplies on local roads seems to be getting worse. The Highways Agency is still managing to keep the motorways and trunk roads well gritted. The AA snapshot shows:

  • Many counties down to perhaps last 100 tonnes
  • Wiltshire reportedly is not gritting many roads
  • Salt mines struggling to keep up – have to mine it daily and then there's the delivery supply chain
  • Nearly all parts of UK affected – weather was bad all over.
  • Four times the usage compared to usual
  • February usually sees most usage, so not a good start to the month
  • There may not be a 'logical; re-supply system i.e. it should perhaps depend on weather forecasts rather than when the order was placed
  • Government needs to take action to co-ordinate
  • Local highway authorities have the legal duty (Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003) to prevent ice and snow on roads where practical
  • One county reportedly 'watering down' salt with sand to make it last – should they tell the public, if it's less effective
  • Clearly the public must be kept informed if councils have run out
  • One London borough has reportedly completely run out of salt

AA comment

AA President, Edmund King says: "The harshest winter for almost two decades has left some highway authorities 'running on empty' as regards their salt stocks. Many are desperate to re-stock their road salt but supply chain pressures from mine to highway depot looks like resulting in some areas running dry – this is a very serious situation with some roads becoming death traps.

"The Government should step in to assess the situation and ensure that salt stocks are maintained in the places at immediate risk from snow and ice over the coming days – this will require a joined-up approach including the Met Office, Local Government Association and other agencies. If needs be the Government should import emergency stocks of salt from Holland to ensure that a safe network of roads and pavements is maintained.

"Top priority must be our strategic roads, the motorways and trunk roads, but the Highways Agency appears to be confident it can meet the challenge. However, it is so frustrating to have motorways and trunk roads working, if key local roads cannot feed traffic on and off them safely – it is therefore essential that no local highway authority runs out of road salt.

"It is impractical to grit all roads and pavements but with extreme ice a higher percentage should be gritted – there are still some incredibly dangerous roads and pavements out there. Just because it is a residential road doesn't mean cars will not crash into other parked cars."

It is still a lottery as to what percentage of roads will be gritted in different areas - in some areas 40% of roads are gritted, some 25% and indeed some just 20% or less.

AA Insurance reports claims are 56 per cent ahead of normal volumes.

The majority of claims have been for shunts and cars sliding and hitting other cars, lamp posts or fences. There have also been claims for cars that were abandoned and, when owners have returned, have found their car damaged by someone hitting it and not leaving any kind of note.

Join the discussion in the AA zone


5 February 2009