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UK weather: Shortage of gritters risks elderly being seriously injured as cold snap approaches, charity warns

The i 25/11/2021 Ruchira Sharma

A concerning shortage of gritters due to the ongoing lorry driver crisis could increase the risk of older people falling and seriously injuring themselves when parts of the UK are plunged into freezing conditions this week, a charity has warned.

Some areas have struggled to have their bins collected in recent weeks due to the shortage of drivers and now there are fears that gritters – used to spread salt onto roads to make them safer to walk and drive on in icy conditions – are the next essential service to be impacted.

The issue is compounded by gritter drivers being lured into the private sector by inflated salaries, the Local Government Association (LGA) has warned.

Councillor David Renard, transport spokesperson for the LGA, told i that councils will be working proactively to plan ahead for winter but that the training of gritter drivers is “a lengthy process” and therefore will be unlikely to tackle short term pressures.

Age UK said falls are a “major hazard” for the elderly and any shortage of gritters “is a concern”.

The UK is set to see snowfall this week as icy air from the Arctic blows across the country, while strong winds expected at the weekend could cause widespread travel disruption.

Mr Renard said that “as they do every year”, councils will be working proactively to plan ahead and “ensure that their winter services are as resilient as they can be”.

The Department for Transport said it is supporting local authorities to prepare for adverse weather this winter as well as stepping up measures to tackle the lorry driver crisis.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the total number of employed lorry drivers has fallen by around a sixth from June 2017 up to June this year – from 321,000 to 268,000.

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A DfT spokesperson told i: “We continue to offer support by maintaining a national emergency salt reserve, and by introducing a raft of measures to boost the number of HGV drivers.

“Our measures are working, with a huge increase in vocational licences issued and HGV tests conducted, compared to before the pandemic.”

But Mr Renard said that while councils are keen to work with the Government and partners to support more training for local authority lorry drivers, it is unlikely to make a difference in the short term as the country heads into winter.

Age UK have said the gritter driver shortage is a “concern” for older people who could slip on roads and pavements when temperatures plunge.

“Falls are a major hazard for older people, especially in the winter when it can be slippery underfoot and harder to spot uneven pavements and kerbsides in dingier light,” Caroline Abrahams, Age UK’s Charity Director told i.

“It’s all too easy to slip while crossing an icy or snowy road and do yourself some serious damage as a result, so from that point of view the reported likely shortage of gritters is a concern.”

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British motoring association the AA said that gritting on roads has always been an issue.

“Gritting in winter can always be a bit of a lottery depending on the severity of weather conditions and when that happens, ie at night versus the rush-hour. Add to that the potential for staff illness at a time of year when flu can be particularly prevalent,” Luke Bosdet, AA Public Affairs told i.

Councils publish winter roads maintenance plans that prioritise routes for gritting based on a handful of factors including their important and the weight of traffic.

“If a council knows it will be stretched this winter, it needs to manage expectations through its winter plan and parish councils,” Mr Bosdet said. “However, it has long been a common gripe that main roads are treated but side roads are not, leading to residential roads taking drivers directly to their homes often being dicey.

“For many rural communities, the sight of a gritter off the main roads can be a rarity anyway.”


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