Auto Talk: Who is Responsible for Gritting Roads in the UK? 

March 20, 2023

Driving on public roads in winter means getting acquainted with a few basic laws of physics. When the road surface is slippery, your stopping distance will increase – often significantly. This makes accidents more likely, which, as well as being a safety concern, imposes an economic cost.

Why is gritting important?

Fortunately, we have a reliable means of dealing with snow and ice on the road. By spreading grit on the surface, we’ll create extra friction. But, because of the salt content of the grit, we’ll also lower the freezing temperature of any water on the road. It’s this salinity that makes the difference.

Who is responsible for gritting?

The UK highways authorities (that is, your local council) are responsible for around 90% of British roads. This means everything that isn’t a motorway or a major a-roads.

We should be clear here that the word ‘highway’ applies not just to roads, but to pavements, too – though in many cases it would be considered impracticable to have the pavements clear of ice at all times.

According to National Accident Helpline’s blog on the subject, “The decision on whether to grit or clear a pavement depends on how often it is used, and other factors such as whether other routes are available.” The blog post also mentions that the public is encouraged to help clear roads and pathways with grit salt when possible, although they have no legal responsibility to do so.

The Highways Act 1980, which applies in England and Wales, claims that “a highway authority is under a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that safe passage along a highway is not endangered by snow or ice.”

Many councils will provide grit in public boxes, to be spread by a member of the public. If you don’t have access to such a thing, then you might equally buy your own grit to keep your driveway, and general vicinity, clear.

Who is liable for an accident?

In some cases, accidents might occur on roads which have not been adequately gritted. Again, the liability will vary.

If a member of the public has cleared snow or ice from their own property onto the highway, then they may well assume liability for any subsequent accidents. Similarly, we might find that employers, which have a duty under the Health and Safety Act to provide a safe working environment, might find themselves liable for injuries that result from insufficient gritting.

Accidents which occur on public roads might be caused by a failure of the local council, depending on the circumstances. If the council could have reasonably foreseen that the road would be in use, then the chance of a successful claim will be higher. If the road in question is remote, and difficult to grit, then the case will be accordingly weaker. As ever, it’s a good idea to seek legal advice before pursuing action of this kind.