Debris, Litter or Rubbish

A further hazard for the motorist is the presence of debris on the carriageway; unexpected items that cause a driver to take evasive action or cause a loss of control due to impacting with them. This is likely to increase as at least one contractor is not carrying out the debris clearing due to the cost – despite receiving tax-payers money to address the issue. A concern is conveyed here  – Debris Only Removed When It Causes Crash?

15/12/2020 – Highways England write ‘We absolutely agree that litter is a road hazard which can potentially be a cause of incidents and damage to vehicles’. Read more here.

27/11/2020 – HE’s 929 Traffic Officers cannot act on litter

30/06/2020 – Motorway worker struck by piece of metal as HGV drives past him on M6

30/06/2020 – Four poster beds, garden furniture and canoe found on Yorkshire’s busiest roads
Over 8,000 items have been found on Yorkshire motorways and A roads over the past 10 months.  Read more here.

A further cause of debris are spillages from skip lorries and bulk waste transporters. 31/01/2019 it was reported by ‘Clean Highways‘ that whilst this occurs on a regular basis, the Environment Agency have only prosecuted one offending company in the past 18 years!  Where’s the deterrent?

Additionally, there clearly exist many ‘foreign objects’ on the road that are either not seen due to the speeds at which the driver is travelling or too small to be noticeable. Sharp items can cause punctures and ‘blow-outs’ (sudden deflation of tyres) and combustible material can attach to a vehicle and ignite.  Debris can puncture fuel reservoirs as is suspected in respect of an incident 24/03/2018 where the driver’s account and the damage presented gave cause to believe debris was responsible for a 1,000 litre fuel leak – read more here.

The fire report can be read here – Fire Report 2641 24Mar2018

A contractor admitted that they did not attend to litter and debris citing the cost of Traffic Management; that the zero-carriageway crossing policy meant the need to install TM and this was expensive. However, it appears this is incorrect, with ‘Clean Highways’ reporting:

At an on-site meeting it was put to me by Highways England and their Area 5 contractor Connect Plus (M25) Ltd there was now a blanket exclusion on any live lane crossing. As a consequence they told me that litter pickers can no longer cross a live lane regardless of the presence or otherwise of traffic.

however, the article continues:

It is clear from the above that Interim Advice Note 150/11 is concerned only with reducing risk to operatives by eliminating the need to cross live lanes when putting traffic signage in place.  There is no blanket ban.

Peter Silverman 12th March 2019

23/01/2019 – Promise to monitor motorway litter ignored by the DfT

From CleanHighways:

I have been studying the DfT’s Draft Road Investment Strategy for Highways England for 2020/25 (RIS2) (a). It is meant to set out the government’s objectives for HE in detail. It’s not just about investment.

When I met with Road’s Minister, Jesse Norman MP, in July he was unaware that the current RIS did not include a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for litter against which HE’s performance could be judged.

In response I was later told that HE, DEFRA and the DfT were working to develop a robust metric which would deliver data on the state of roadside littering on the HE network.

However, the Draft RIS 2 makes no mention of this or of any intention to introduce a KPI for litter.

I have written to the Permanent Secretary at the DfT, Bernadette Kelly, cc Jesse Norman, pointing this out (b). I suggested it was further evidence of a policy of dumbing down Highways England’s statutory duty on litter (c).



FoIA 761,926 ‘Our maintenance contracts are structured so that our service providers are paid a ‘lump sum’ for a wide range of general maintenance duties such as general repairs, cleaning duties (including litter picking) and repairing potholes. These activities are performed on both a routine and ad-hoc basis to meet contractual requirements.’ – full response – 180510 Litter Debris REDACTED_EIR_761_926

29/03/2018  -More than 1,800 bags of litter have been collected from Yorkshire’s motorways in an operation that has been described as risky for the workforce.”The litter on our roads can cause a hazard to drivers, our workers and wildlife, so I’d urge everyone to keep a bag in their car which they can use for rubbish, and then put it in the bin when they get home to improve the experience of all drivers who use our roads.” source – Minster FM.

20/02/2018 from Clean Highways :

The issue of debris, of roadside rubbish which can pass to the carriageway is highlighted at CleanHighways which displays the following quote:

in 2010 Mike Penning MP described our motorways as being “blighted by litter”  (LINK)

in 2015 a Commons Select Committee (LINK) reported:

65.David Sedaris, author and broadcaster, told us that levels of litter were high in the UK compared to other countries:

It is funny how many people I have spoken to in the UK who say, “Well, it is like this everywhere”. It is not. You have to go deep into Eastern Europe to find it this bad. I lived in France for a number of years. I have never seen anything like this anywhere in France. I lived in Japan for a while. I have never seen any rubbish whatsoever in Japan. It is obviously a cultural thing.104

66.The Government did not appear to share his view. Dan Rogerson, the Defra Minister, told us: “there is a pretty good standard across areas. […] We have not seen a problem that is getting dramatically worse.”

105 We disagree. Not getting worse is not the same as acceptable. We take no satisfaction in it but the evidence of our own eyes, the photographs tweeted to us, and the evidence we took during this inquiry lead us to the conclusion that England is a litter-ridden country compared to most of Europe, North America and Japan. Change is needed.

06/03/2017 – Highways England’s customer service director Melanie Clarke said:

‘Cleaning motorways is expensive and time-consuming, and it is the innocent drivers who suffer. The money needed to clear litter comes out of their pockets and they are the ones who suffer the consequences if an item of litter causes a puncture, or a collision which closes a carriageway’

14/10/2016 – First reported UK Bridgestone DriveGuard puncture caused by roadside debris.
Posted on October 14th, 2016 by Rob Marshall:

You cannot fail to have noticed that there is an increasing quantity of detritus littering the hard-shoulders and central reservations of our motorways in recent years. I have and it could have resulted in a nasty accident, when a large metal object (I presume it were a bolt) skewered one of my rear tyres, while I was travelling at 60mph, early in the morning, several weeks ago.

To read the full article, click here