NORTH-East authorities have defended their use of a road surfacing material which is claimed to be unsafe.

Several roads across the region, including stretches of the A66 which has been dubbed Britain's most dangerous road, use Stone Mastic Asphalt (SMA), which provides a quieter, longer-lasting surface with less materials than other surfaces.

A BBC News investigation has claimed that SMA does not provide enough grip for cars travelling at high speed and it has been banned on high-speed roads in Ireland.

The Highways Agency said it has used the surfacing since the early 1990s and it is rigorously tested.

The agency said: "Low noise surfacing is widely used across Britain and Europe and provides good adhesion for vehicles and has a proven safety record.

"All thin asphalt surfacings used on the trunk road network meet the strict standards and specifications and provide a safe and reliable surface on which to drive."

However, AA Motoring Trust spokesman Paul Watters told the BBC: "I think road surfaces are a hidden menace to road users and I think perhaps we don't know the half of it."

Durham County, North Yorkshire, Darlington Borough and Middlesbrough councils have all said they use the SMA surfacing on their roads.

Each council said the surfacing could exhibit lower skid resistance for a few months after it has been laid. However, during this time 'Slippy Road' signs were erected to warn motorists.

A Darlington Borough Council spokeswoman said: "We follow the guidance that's been issued and we've found no problems relating to this surfacing."

A spokesman for Durham Police said: "This type of road surface has not been an issue to date in any fatal or serious road accidents in the Durham Constabulary area."