Claims leap as drivers crash on ice

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The Independent Online

Rescue services joined the growing chorus of concern today over dwindling salt and grit supplies for Britain's treacherous roads.

With forecasters warning that the freezing blast will continue into the weekend, the Government should step in to offer more help, the AA and RAC said.

The AA revealed its insurance arm recorded a 56 per cent leap in claims for shunts caused by the weather.

The company claimed salt and grit shortages had made roads particularly treacherous in Wiltshire, Hertfordshire, Surrey, Derbyshire and parts of Wales.

Edmund King, president of the AA, said: "This is a very serious situation with some roads becoming death traps.

"The Government should step in to assess the situation and ensure that salt stocks are maintained in the places at immediate risk from snow and ice over the coming days."

The majority of claims have been for shunts and for cars sliding and hitting other cars, lamp posts or fences.

RAC motoring strategist Adrian Tink added: "The number of roads that haven't been gritted is a big concern and has a serious impact on driver safety.

"We feel it's imperative that the Government sets up an independent review of how Britain copes with snow and ice to make sure this doesn't happen again.

"With UK motorists giving the Government £45 billion a year in taxes, they will feel pretty annoyed that there isn't enough cash to keep all the road networks moving."

Some councils said they were now using salt only on major routes, and Britain's biggest salt supplier, Cheshire-based Salt Union, said staff were working round the clock but still could not meet demand.

Cleveland Potash, the Highways Agency's second supplier, said it had arranged for 40,000 tonnes of salt to be imported from its sister mine in Spain to meet the increased demand.

Hertfordshire County Council, one of the councils which said stocks were running low, said it was seeking additional supplies from abroad.

Other councils which were saving their salt for main roads include Ceredigion County Council, in mid Wales, which said Salt Union had told it not to expect further deliveries.

Rhondda Cynon Taf council, in the South Wales valleys, closed three mountain roads last night, accusing the Highways Agency of "blocking" its salt orders.

But the Agency stressed it was "not seeking, nor receiving, preferential treatment from the salt suppliers".