Army of gritters battle Beast from the East28 Feb 2018

Four thousand salt spreaders on the move to cope with cold snap

Across the UK, almost 4,000 gritters are on hand to tackle the icy blast forecast to bring blizzard conditions to most parts of the country.

Many of these vehicles will also be fitted with ploughs to clear away fallen snow but should more help be needed then 500 dedicated snow ploughs can be mobilised to force a way through to keep routes open.

Most of the vehicles will be owned by – or operated on behalf of – either councils to clear local roads or the government agencies that keep the motorways passable. However, a significant number will be deployed to keep facilities such as airports operating.

(Last November Highways England – which operates the English strategic road network – announced that it had more than 500 salt-spreading vehicles in its fleet together with 280,000 tonnes of salt; enough to cover 610,000 miles of motorway or the entire 1,896-mile English motorway network 322 times. )

The figures are revealed in RAC Foundation analysis of DVLA data which details the number of vehicles licensed in the UK by tax class.

It shows that licensed in the UK in 2017 there were:

  • 3,854 gritting vehicles: 3,238 in England; 431 in Scotland; 105 in Wales; and 64 in Northern Ireland
  • 335 dedicated snow ploughs: 236 in England; 72 in Scotland; 27 in Wales; no figures for Northern Ireland

When looked at regionally:

Gritting Vehicle Snow Plough
East Midlands 361 9
East of England 297 27
London 42 13
North East 188 21
North West 288 24
South East 260 70
South West 730 32
West Midlands 277 15
Yorkshire and Humberside 795 25
England Total 3,238 236
Scotland 431 72
Wales 105 27
Northern Ireland 64  N/A
Unknown 16  N/A
UK TOTAL 3,854 335


There are 262,450 miles of road in the UK:

  • England – 188,542 miles
  • Scotland – 36,888 miles
  • Wales – 21,081 miles
  • Northern Ireland – 15,939 miles

Of these 262,450 miles, 2,338 miles are motorway:

  • England – 1,896 miles
  • Scotland – 283 miles
  • Wales – 88 miles
  • Northern Ireland – 71 miles

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said:

“Many lessons have been learned by highway managers since the appalling winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11 caught them on the hop.

“But although we can take some comfort from the fact that the stockpiles of salt and grit are much higher this winter, and that there are thousands of specialised vehicles ready to do the spreading, highway authorities faced with the ‘beast from the east’ have had to use their judgement to prioritise key routes and try to stay ahead of the weather. As many drivers will know this hasn’t always been possible.

“Even with the scale of the gritting fleet poised for deployment it would be unrealistic to expect every road to be kept clear of snow and ice at all times, so motorists need to be on their guard and, if the snowfall is as deep as some forecasters predict, be ready to ask themselves the question ‘Is my journey really necessary?’”



Philip Gomm – Head of External Communications – RAC Foundation

020 7747 3445 | 07711 776448 | [email protected]

Notes to editors:

The RAC Foundation is a transport policy and research organisation that explores the economic, mobility, safety and environmental issues relating to roads and their users. The Foundation publishes independent and authoritative research with which it promotes informed debate and advocates policy in the interest of the responsible motorist.

The RAC Foundation is a registered charity, number 1002705.

All of the RAC Foundation’s work is available on the RAC Foundation website –