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5 Interesting Facts About Winter Gritting

5 Interesting  Facts About Winter Gritting

Most of us take for granted the fact that our local and regional authorities apply grit (rock salt) to roads during the winter months. Because we’ve grown up with it, we just expect it to happen. There’s a lot more to road gritting than meets the eye. Those responsible for keeping our roads clear and safe have many things to consider, including:

  • air and road surface temperatures
  • local and regional traffic patterns
  • weather event progression
  • route planning and prioritising
  • making best use of highway budgets.

Needless to say, keeping the roads clear and safe during winter weather is a monumental task. It is not for the faint of heart. Gritting crews and their supervisors do great work that allows the rest of us to get where we are going safely.

Here are five interesting facts about road gritting in the UK you might not know.

1. Total Distance Covered

The various highway authorities throughout the UK are responsible for gritting nearly 90% of all the roads. Those authorities are spread across local, county, and metropolitan jurisdictions. For example, the council of your local town might have jurisdiction over the main roads within town limits, while the county is responsible for roads outside the town.

In all, highway authorities cover some 225,000 miles of roads. In England and Wales alone, there are about 80,000 miles of roads regularly treated by the highway authorities. Nevertheless, not every mile of road is treated by government. Many of the less travelled thoroughfares are handled by volunteers known as grit wardens, and some areas are covered by private winter maintenance companies.

2. Not All Roads Are Accessible

While it’s true that gritting every single inch of road in the UK would cost hundreds of millions of pounds, cost is not the only thing that prevents highway authorities from gritting everywhere. A larger problem is that there are many roads that are inaccessible to grit lorries. That’s why most councils and highway authorities set up grit bins at strategic locations in late autumn. Those bins are there so that local residents can have access to salt themselves and grit road surfaces that are inaccessible to lorries.

It should be noted that most local councils make it abundantly clear that salt found in public grit bins is only to be used on public roads and walkways. It’s not to be taken home and used on your own property.

3. Road Surface Temperatures Are Important

When we watch the weather forecast we are advised of anticipated air temperatures. However, road surface temperatures and air temperatures are rarely the same and the road surface temperature is also used to make decisions on when to apply salt. In order to make sure rock salt is used as efficiently as possible, some local authorities have begun using high-tech road sensors that are able to determine road surface temperature. They combine the data with local forecasts before deciding whether gritting is appropriate or not.

4. The Cost of Salt

Salt is not very expensive on a per-tonne basis. However, the fact that the UK uses so much of it means that gritting budgets need to be fairly high. Councils tend to use a high quantity throughout the winter months, so the costs can add up. On the other hand, it is a small price to pay for keeping local communities accessible, mobile and safe.

5. How Much Is Used

It can be difficult for a council or winter maitenance company to determine how much salt it will use from one year to the next. Fluctuations in weather patterns see to that. During the 2011/2012 season, local councils used about 700,000 tonnes, while the number was well over 1 million tonnes during the 2010/2011 winter. Councils must do their best to estimate based on long-range forecast. The good news is that it typically evens out over a 5- or 10-year cycle.


  1. Local Government Association –