GRITTING teams and snow ploughs were last night on standby across the region in a bid to keep the roads clear.

Councils said winter maintenance teams were working flat out to cope with the snowy weather.

Durham County Council said its entire fleet of 67 vehicles was deployed around the county yesterday.

There were also more than are more than 30 council staff on foot, on snow-clearing duties in the town centres.

North Yorkshire County Council's highways department said its gritters would be working on a 24-hour basis until conditions improved.

A spokesman said: "Everywhere east of the A1 has been worst affected by the snow.

"Farmers have been helping us to clear roads in the more remote areas of the county, particularly on the North York Moors."

In Darlington, a council spokeswoman said: "Gritters have been out since 5am on the nine main routes into town. Four of the six have got snowploughs on them just in case they are needed."

In Redcar, east Cleveland, the council said that its gritters had gone through 300 tonnes of salt in the past 48 hours.

A spokesman said: "All roads are passable, but with care."

Highways chiefs have urged drivers to slow down.

Kevin Hoare, of the Highways Agency, said drivers on the A1 in County Durham had ignored warnings to take more care after five inches of snow fell overnight.

During blizzard conditions yesterday morning, he said: "Drivers were travelling too fast for the conditions. We switched on the matrix speed signs warning drivers to slow, but some motorists simply chose to ignore them."

Motoring organisation the RAC said it had attended to more than a third more than the usual number of vehicles needing to be recovered after accidents.

It said cold weather engine starting problems had caught motorists out, while heavy snow and ice had caused hazardous driving conditions.

RAC patrolman Paul Oakley said in such conditions it could take up to ten times longer to stop, so if motorists did venture out they should slow right down, keeping a good distance in between them and the vehicle in front.

He said: "Unfortunately, collisions are often inevitable, as many motorists drive too fast and too close to the vehicle in front for the road and weather conditions."

He added: "People should use the highest gear possible to avoid wheel spin, manoeuvre gently and avoid harsh braking and acceleration."