Scotland's weather: Truckers rules changed to keep shops stocked

EUROPEAN rules that restrict the amount of time that lorry drivers can spend at the wheel were relaxed yesterday in an attempt to get vital supplies moving through the ice and the snow.

• Tesco driver John Rice heads through the snow to make a delivery. Photograph: Jayne Emsley

With a big freeze and more snow forecast this week, the EU rules were eased as an emergency measure to help hauliers overcome the food and fuel shortages in some parts of the country.

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The action to get Scotland moving again before Christmas was taken as the winter death toll rose to seven yesterday with the loss of two men killed in a crash on the M62 in Humberside.

The temporary change in the rules was announced by the Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson yesterday and will allow all HGV drivers to work longer to take essential provisions to shops, farms and petrol stations.

Although snow fall is expected to ease, freezing temperatures are expected to last until the end of the year, meaning snow will not clear and roads will be liable to icing. Stevenson said the conditions demanded "urgent action". Lifting the restrictions will see HGV drivers' daily driving limit raised from nine hours to ten. Their daily rest requirements will be reduced from 11 hours to nine, giving them more chance of getting through to remote areas that are struggling with fuel and food shortages.

The Petrol Retailers Association had warned that up to 500 petrol stations across the UK were in danger of running out of fuel this weekend. The Royal Mail had reported problems with around 10 per cent of its deliveries.

Yesterday saw a slight thaw but the big freeze was set to come in again overnight. Shell admitted there were still some pockets of Scotland where fuel lorries were having difficulty getting through the snow.

"This further relaxation of regulations, agreed with the Westminster Department for Transport, is important as it means HGV drivers can continue to defy the conditions and get crucial food and fuel supplies through to shops, farms and petrol stations," Stevenson said.

"With all major routes open and an improving situation on our roads, coupled with the relaxing of these regulations, supplies are on the move across Scotland. I have seen first hand the vital extra effort being made by HGV drivers to supply communities across the country. Workers at food and fuel distribution centres are just some of those who are making a tremendous contribution towards keeping Scotland moving in these severe and prolonged weather conditions."

Stevenson's announcement should also help relieve areas of Scotland where there were fears of food shortages. Delivery problems had led shoppers in some areas to stock up on provisions resulting in the rapid disappearance of supplies.

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Some supermarkets ordered in more salt and invested in quad ploughs to clear parking and distribution areas.

Yesterday David Potts, the UK Operations and Logistics Director of Tesco, said: "Our staff have been working exceptionally hard in very difficult circumstances to keep supplies coming in and our stores stocked up for our customers."

The relaxation of the EU rules will continue until midnight on Tuesday 7 December. However, there is an option to extend the current arrangement if the situation remains critical.

The decision to relax the rules for all HGVs came after the restrictions were last week lifted for lorries carrying animal feed and domestic heating oil.

The easing of the restrictions also sees a lifting of the weekly (56 hours) and fortnightly driving limit (90 hours). Drivers' weekly rest requirement has been postponed until 23.59 Tuesday 7 December, at which stage a driver has to take a normal weekly rest of 45 hours. The requirement to take a 45 minute break after four and a half hours driving remains and Stevenson said it will continue to be rigorously enforced.

Ministers also announced that during the extreme weather, farmers can use the lower taxed red diesel in their tractors to help grit and clear snow from public roads.

Under normal rules, only vehicles specifically constructed or adapted for dealing with winter weather, such as snowploughs, can work on public roads while running on red diesel.

With a big freeze forecast for Scotland over the coming week, Stevenson's advice to drivers was still to avoid all but essential journeys. Drivers were urged to take care after more warnings of icy conditions and snow.

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All main roads across Scotland were passable yesterday, although some minor routes in the Grampians and the Highlands remained closed.

Transport Scotland said that more salt supplies were being taken to weather blackspots in the North East of Scotland. The Scottish Salt Group, set up after the challenging weather last year, has seen more salt delivered to Aberdeen in addition to the 300,000 tonnes already available in Scottish Road Authority depots. A further 145,000 tonnes of salt is on order.

The Scottish Government is also working with hostels to make sure emergency beds are available to take homeless people off the streets.

The Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: "Scotland is in the grip of arctic temperatures and experiencing some of the most significant snowfall at this time of year since 1965.

"Homeless people are among the most vulnerable people in our communities, particularly at times like these. Local authorities the length and breadth of Scotland have mobilised to put in place measures to help those in greatest need. This can and will save lives."

Yesterday ScotRail managed to restore some train services to the north of Scotland after snow virtually wiped out services beyond the central belt on Friday.

A reduced service ran between Aberdeen and Inverness and Edinburgh and Inverness. While buses will be running instead of trains between Glasgow and Aberdeen. Shuttle buses also replaced rail services between Dunblane, Stirling and Falkirk High.

Rail services between Glasgow Queen Street and Edinburgh Waverley were still reduced from four an hour to two.

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Today, Scotrail is hopeful of reinstating more services with trains running between Glasgow and Alloa, Edinburgh and Dunblane, the Fife Circle, Inverness and Aberdeen, Inverness and Glasgow Queen Street and Edinburgh Waverley.

In addition, buses are planned between Aberdeen and Glasgow Queen Street and Edinburgh. But once again, the weather decimated Scotland's sporting fixture list with the plastic pitch at Alloa's Recreation Park saving the home team's match against Peterhead. Other than that, all senior football and rugby was off.

There was joy, however, for skiers with runs open in the Nevis Range, Glenshee and the Lecht. However, there was a "considerable" risk of avalanche in the Northern Cairngorms and a "moderate" risk in the Lochaber mountains.

South of the border, two men were killed in a motorway crash on the M62 in Humberside.

The men, who were aged 30 and 56 and both from Nottinghamshire, were travelling in freezing conditions on the eastbound carriageway between junctions 35 and 36 at 11.50am yesterday when the crash happened.

Their silver pick-up truck was in collision with a white lorry.

The lorry driver, a 36-year-old Manchester man, was arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving, Humberside Police said.

The two fatalities came as police released the names of two teenage girls, who died on Friday when their Peugot 206 collided with a Royal Mail box van in Cumbria.

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Police said the weather could be to blame for the deaths of Grace Simpson and Jessica Lakin, both 19, on the A595 in Carlisle.

"The treacherous road conditions appear to have been a factor in this collision," a Cumbria Police spokesman said.

Earlier in the week, two Cumbrian pensioners in Kirkby Stephen and Workington died after falling in their gardens where they spent hours lying in sub-zero temperatures until they were found.

And a good Samaritan who stopped his car to help a stranded motorist in the Yorkshire Dales was killed when he was struck by another vehicle.