Motorists are being urged to take care on the roads as staff responsible for monitoring and managing key routes go on strike.
Staff at England’s National Highways will stage their first walkout on Friday 16 December with a programme of rolling strikes running until early January as part of wider strike action by the PCS union in a dispute over pay and conditions, .
Roads are expected to be busier than usual due to nationwide rail strikes which are also set to resume on Friday, leading to warnings for drivers to be prepared. Neil Greig from road safety group IAM Roadsmart urged drivers to allow more time for journeys and to check their vehicles before setting off.
Around 125 traffic officers and control room staff - about 8% of frontline workers - will take part in the strike action. These workers are responsible for helping emergency services to monitor traffic and manage lane closures on motorways and major A roads, as well as programming electronic signs that provide information about speed limits and lane closures.
Mr Greig said the combination of the strikes, busier roads and bad weather meant it was essential drivers are properly prepared. He commented: “We are very concerned about these strikes. Control centre staff monitor information from traffic detectors and CCTV, and act on it to set the warning signs - they are often the first point of call when there is an incident.
“Having the right support there to act fast is absolutely critical on motorways, as any delays in setting signs or sending help could prolong someone being stranded on the side of a motorway, which can be life-threatening – even a few minutes can make the difference between getting involved in a collision or not.
“We want all drivers to be aware of the issue and, if they have to travel, to take as much care as they can on the roads – this is even more important when the road strikes coincide with severe weather and rail strikes. It has never been more important to make sure you have checked that your vehicle is safe, fuelled and prepared for any challenge.”
The strikes are being staged on different days in different regions. Workers in the North-West, North East and Yorkshire & The Humber will strike on Friday 16 and Saturday 17 December. From Thursday 22, until Sunday 25 December staff in London and the South-East wil strike, followed by those in the West Midlands and South West on Friday 30 and Saturday 31 December. Workers at all National Highways workplaces will then strike on Tuesday 3 and Wednesday 4 January 2023 before those in the East Midlands and Eastern areas walk out on Friday 6 and Saturday 7 January.
National Highways said that maintenance, including road repairs and gritting will not be affected by the strikes and it was working to manage the impact of the strikes. It added that it was lifting roadworks around the country over the Christmas period to improve traffic flow at the traditionally busy time.
Duncan Smith, executive director of operations at National Highways, said: “We’ve reviewed the impact that the PCS strikes may have and are confident our well-rehearsed resilience plans mean we can continue to manage and operate our network safely.
“Millions of people rely on our roads and there is a possibility that they may be busier than usual on strike days, particularly when they correspond with industrial action on other transport modes. We’d urge drivers to take extra care during the cold weather and in the run up to Christmas when our network is always busier.”