A dozen gritters were in collision with other vehicles last year across major roads in South-East England, despite being 2.5 metres wide, having flashing amber beasons and being painted bright orange.
So, with winter approaching, drivers across the country are being asked to give gritter drivers space to do their jobs.
Gritters weigh up to 26 tonnes and travel at 40mph when they are spreading salt.
They often travel in the middle lane of a motorway to ensure the right amount of salt is spread to all lanes.
Highways England’s winter and severe weather leader in the South East, Dominic Haydon, said: “Our gritter drivers play an absolutely vital role in keeping roads free of ice and snow when wintry weather hits. Although the vast majority of people support our gritter drivers by leaving a sensible distance and only passing when it’s safe to do so, we do have occasions when people misjudge the situation and end up colliding with one of our vehicles.
“We have also noticed a growing problem with driver using the hard shoulder to undertake gritters, risking a collision with stationary vehicles on the hard shoulder and causing a hazard to gritter drivers who need to exit at motorway junctions.
Gritter drivers often feel vulnerable while out on the network due to the reduced speeds of 30 and 40mph that they have to travel
“During severe weather it’s really important that we keep traffic moving and our gritters are out on the network enabling us to do that.
“The back of a gritter is the most vulnerable area as it’s where the salt spreading equipment is located. If it’s struck it can mean the gritter has to be taken off the road to be repaired, which is costly and could affect critical services in extreme weather conditions.”
Dominic added: “We are doing everything we can to improve the visibility of our fleet and we are rolling out a number of new vehicles, starting last month in East Anglia, which include a large rear chevron panel which will improve the visibility.
“Gritter drivers often feel vulnerable while out on the network due to the reduced speeds of 30 and 40mph that they have to travel. In the south-east there were 12 incidents where people crashed into our gritters which meant they had to be taken off the roads to be repaired.”
Richard O’Keeffe, Service Delivery Manager at Connect Plus Services, said: “Our fleet of gritters stand ready to treat the M25 strategic road network and keep traffic moving safely if severe weather strikes. We rely on the goodwill of motorists to give our maintenance crews the space they need to work, and remind people to pass gritters safely if you see them on the road.”
During severe weather drivers are urged to follow this advice:
• In snow and ice, drivers should stick to the main roads where they can and only travel if necessary - drivers are also encouraged to make sure they have a winter kit in their vehicle, including an ice scraper and de-icer, warm clothes and blankets and sunglasses to cope with the low winter sun.
• In high winds, there’s a particular risk to lorries, caravans and motorbikes, so drivers should slow down and avoid using exposed sections of road if possible
• In heavy rain, drivers should keep well back from the vehicle in front, gradually ease off the accelerator if the steering becomes unresponsive, and slow down if the rain and spray from vehicles makes it difficult to see and be seen
• In fog, drivers should switch on their fog lights and not use lights on full beam as the fog will reflect the light back. If you really cannot see, you should consider stopping until it is safe to continue
Drivers are advised to follow messages on the overhead signs and listen to radio updates. Further information can be found by visiting the www.highways.gov.uk/traffic or calling the Highways England Information Line on 0300 123 5000.