It could be argued that gritter drivers are some of the most important people during winter, and over the next few months the East Sussex Highways gritting team will be working hard in all weathers to keep our roads clear of snow and ice.

And as temperatures drop, two of the county’s most experienced drivers will be heading out – Graham Gosden and Mick Bishop have been driving gritters since the mid-1990s, clocking up more than 50 years’ experience between them.

Driving the gritters

Despite the early starts and late nights, Graham and Mick both say they love the job.

“It is a pleasure to keep the roads safe for the public and you see some beautiful countryside,” said Mick.  “It’s quite a sight coming across a deer when you’re driving through snow over the Ashdown Forest.”

Graham added: “Our gritters are great to drive nowadays – it’s warm in the cab, which is important when it’s a freezing winter’s morning, and everything is fully automated so you can control the grit spreading at the touch of a button.”

The gritting teams work one week on, one week off and are on standby 24 hours a day, seven days a week from the beginning of October, so the start of autumn brings a change in routine for Graham and Mick.

During the day they work as part of the highways team – Graham can usually be found driving or operating the Hiab lorry installing streetlight columns, while Mick looks after the stores at the highways depot in Ringmer.

But when the weather turns the pair join the 42 strong gritting team working late into the night and in the early morning to keep over 1,500km of roads clear county wide.

Graham said: “On a good night after an evening shout, I can usually be back home in bed by midnight.

“If it’s a morning run, I’ll get up around 2.30am before heading to the yard to load up the trucks with salt.

“My run takes approximately two hours and 20 minutes to complete. Once I’m back in the yard, we empty the truck of any leftover salt and wash it down to stop the rust.”

Mick added: “You can’t control the weather though. If it starts to rain, we have to wait as you can’t grit on wet roads. And sometimes if the overnight forecast is bad we have to go out earlier, at 2am or 3am; then I try to get some sleep beforehand.”

Mick Bishop stands by a gritter.

Mick Bishop.

Operation Snowdrop

Every year as the nights start to draw in and summer comes to the end, the 21 gritting trucks and their drivers take part in a trial run of the gritting routes around the county to test their readiness for wintry weather.

The annual initiative, known as Operation Snowdrop, ensures the trucks are thoroughly checked before the start of winter. As well as making sure the gritters, snowblowers and ploughs are ready to go, the operation ensures every member of the team, from control room staff to gritter drivers, knows their role when temperatures plummet.

To grit or not to grit…

Our gritters are ready to hit the road when snow is forecast, or the road surface temperature falls close to or below freezing.

Grit, or rock salt, helps to keep our roads safe by reducing the risk of ice. Salt lowers the temperature at which water freezes, helping to prevent ice or frost forming on the carriageway.

However, if temperatures fall below minus 10 degrees centigrade, salt generally loses its effectiveness.

Salt will not melt ice or snow straight away. It takes time for the salt to mix with the snow and ice and melt it. However, cars driving over the snow and ice will speed up the process as the salt is mixed in faster.

Crunching the numbers

21 trucks.

42 gritter drivers

42 per cent of the county’s roads are treated during a primary gritting run.

100 tonnes of rock salt used per run.

8,000 tonnes of rock salt stored across the county for the winter.

Winter road safety

Despite the hard work that goes into treating the county’s roads, gritting only helps to lessen the driving hazards that winter brings; it does not eliminate them.

Please remember to drive to the conditions and to take extra care when driving in cold weather even if there is grit on the road.

Get advice on how to prepare for driving in winter, as well as information about East Sussex Highways’ winter service.


Main image shows Graham Gosden.