A new winter road safety campaign is being rolled out in the south east warning drivers they could be putting their lives at risk if they use the hard shoulder to undertake gritters.

Highways England’s gritter drivers have noticed a growing problem with road users veering into the hard shoulder to avoid being struck by salt, risking a collision with a stationary vehicle and causing a hazard when gritters try to come off at junctions.

The latest statistics show that, on average, 16 people lose their lives every year as a result of collisions on hard shoulders or in laybys across England, and 45 suffer a serious injury.

Drivers are being asked not to take unnecessary risks this winter, on roads such as the M3 motorway or the A331 Blackwater Valley Relief Road, to help keep the region’s major roads moving and safe.

Gritters usually travel at 40mph in the middle lane when they are spreading salt on a three-lane motorway, treating the lane they are in and one lane on either side.

Drivers are advised to only pass a gritter when it is safe to do so, avoiding using the hard shoulder and checking for hazards ahead.

More than 72,000 tonnes of salt is currently being stored at 25 depots across the south east, enough to cover around 320,000 miles of motorway – equivalent to a six lane motorway travelling around the world more than six times.

Salt supplies will be topped up throughout the winter and a total of 112 gritters are also on standby in the south east to start spreading salt when temperatures are forecast to dip below freezing, with drivers able to treat every metre of motorway in the region every three hours.

Motorists and other road users are also being asked to play their part by driving sensibly and making sure they have a winter kit in their vehicles, including an ice scraper and de-icer, warm clothes and blankets, and sunglasses to cope with the low winter sun.

Tim Lyver, Service Delivery Team Leader at Highways England, said: “Our gritter drivers will be out in all weathers again this winter and we’re encouraging road users to do their bit to help keep the region’s motorways and major A roads moving.

“The vast 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 by using the hard shoulder to undertake gritters.

“We’re also encouraging drivers to make sure they’ve got a winter kit in their vehicle so they don’t get caught out by the weather. That could be as simple as having a pair of sunglasses in the glove locker so you’re not struggling to see in the low winter sun.”

More details on staying safe on the roads this winter are available on the Met Office's

online page.