Widespread transport disruption caused by some of the most severe winter weather for a century left many people's Christmas travel plans in tatters and large parts of the country paralysed yesterday.
Breakdown service AA called for "restrictions" and a "risk assessment" on motorways for lorries during extreme weather conditions, after an overturned liquid petroleum gas tanker closed the M25 for seven hours until last night, and drivers in Oxfordshire faced eight hour delays.
Edmund King, President of the AA, said: "There is no doubt jack-knifed lorries caused chaos and been a nightmare in terms of consequences. We should have a risk assessment of the motorway network to identify areas where trucks are most likely to jack-knife or get stuck in snow. Then, just as high-sided lorries are restricted from crossing the Severn bridge in high winds, lorries should be restricted based on the conditions on the ground."
He said that while we need fuel for garages, goods for shops and people are waiting for gifts to be delivered, these measures would help transport keep moving. Mr King added that trucks should be restricted to the inside lane during harsh snow conditions, so if two trucks break down they do not close two-thirds of a motorway.
In France, a ban on heavy vehicles on motorways in extreme weather meant a concert by Lady Gaga at the Palais Omnisports in Paris was cancelled.
Motorists across the UK were urged to exercise "incredible caution" on the roads. A spokesman for the AA's breakdown service said: "Salt on roads is ineffective when it is colder than -9C, and low temperatures overnight will turn side roads into ice rinks." The breakdown service said it was on course to have dealt with 14,000 cases yesterday, double the usual number.
Drivers were queueing for up to eight hours on the A34 in Oxfordshire last night, after more than 80 cars were abandoned on Saturday night and several jack-knifed lorries were blocking the route. The Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson was one of thousands forced to abandon his car at the weekend, when 15cm of snow fell in Oxford. "It was very bad out there," he said. "I thought, 'I'm not going to get home tonight and it's going to get dark.'"
The Wales Ambulance Service has warned of potential "long delays" in responding to 999 calls, as more heavy snow is forecast today. It said people should ring 999 only in a life-threatening emergency, as treacherous conditions put a strain on its transport.
In Scotland –where snow and plummeting temperatures were forecast again last night in the Grampian, Highlands and Northern Isles – the Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead reminded the public to set out only when "absolutely necessary". Mr Lochhead said: "Everyone should take heed of the latest weather and transport updates before travelling. Our plan to keep Scotland moving is now in full effect and over 1,000 snow vehicles are being operated around the clock."
Transport for London said it had a "fleet of 38 gritters and 10 quad bikes at work throughout the night, spreading almost 500 tonnes of grit".
The weather is affecting wildlife. The robin is one of several birds at risk of "near extinction" if the icy spell continues, SongBird Survival warned.
On the roads
The AA was called out to more than 14,000 breakdowns yesterday, more than double the usual number, while the M25 was closed between junctions five and six after a petrol tanker overturned. In Scotland, more than 1,000 snow vehicles were working round the clock to clear roads. The M8 was experiencing severe delays due to a breakdown in Livingston, near Edinburgh airport. National Express was running reduced services to Gatwick, while coaches between London and Paris were suspended as French police would not let vehicles pass through Calais.
There were severe delays to all parts of the network, with disruptions reported on Virgin trains, Stansted Express, Southern, South West Trains, London Midland and First Capital Connect.
There were no arrivals to Heathrow throughout the day and only a "handful" of departures, leaving hundreds of people sleeping overnight in the terminals. Gatwick reopened yesterday, but thedisruption continued with passengers told to check flights before travelling to the airport. Flights to and from Stansted, Luton, Exeter, London City, Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bristol, Southampton, Cardiff and Birmingham airports were all subject to delay and cancellation.