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Highways Agency Traffic Officers

A Day in the Life of a Traffic Officer

Greg Wallen and Mick Hugill on patrol route Sierra Echo 27

Traffic Officers Greg Wallen (Left) and Mick Hugill on patrol

The day starts at 06:00am with a briefing session from our team manager Steve Gill. Here we are told about any ongoing incidents, or any incidents that were cleared overnight but would be useful for us to know about. We are also briefed on today's weather, and any roadworks or events planned for today that will have an effect on our area.

Traffic Officer vehicles carry a wide range of equipment, so we are prepared to deal with any number of the different incidents that can happen on the roads. We check that our vehicle is fully stocked, and carry out a full vehicle check before setting off.

There are four patrol routes in our area during the day, all based at Easton Lane outstation, off junction 9 of the M3.  We cover all the motorways around Portsmouth and Southampton and the M3 all the way up to junction 4 at Farnborough in Surrey. Today, we're patrolling the M27 between Southampton and Portsmouth.

It's not long before we are called to our first incident, a three-car collision. No-one is hurt, but the vehicles are stuck in lane three. We need to clear the road as soon as possible, and that means getting the vehicles onto the hard shoulder. Our vehicles are able to tow loads of up to three and a half tonnes for short distances, which is what we do here. To complete the task safely we need to close the road briefly; this is not something we take lightly, but the alternative would be to leave two lanes of the motorway blocked until all vehicles have been recovered. In this the vehicles are safely on the hard shoulder in just a few minutes, and traffic is flowing again.

About a mile further along we notice some debris on the motorway. Debris can be dangerous when vehicles travel over it at motorway speeds. We pull over on the hard shoulder, and see a  metal hook and chain which needs to be cleared straight away. Mick keeps an eye on traffic, and spots an opportunity to safely direct it out of the lane. He continues to monitor the lane closure while I step into the lane and retrieve the debris. It sounds quite complicated, but really it's all over in around seven seconds.

Before we do anything we inform our colleagues at the regional control centre so that they are aware and can set signs and signals if needed. We work closely with other patrols, the police and the Highways Agency's maintenance teams amongst others.

Shortly after this, we are called to assist at an incident - the barrier in the central reservation has been damaged and needs an emergency repair. Generally, the Highways Agency carries out repairs like this overnight when traffic levels are lowest, but some accident damage, particularly to something like a safety barrier, needs to be repaired straight away to keep the road safe.

For work that is likely to take only a few minutes, it is possible for us to use a rolling road block. This keeps traffic moving, and creates a gap in traffic to allow colleagues further down the road to carry out work safely. They are a very useful tool helping us to limit incident related congestion.

We position ourselves in the road and slow down to around 20mph. We use our vehicle lights, hand signals and an electronic message board on the back of our vehicle to let drivers behind us know what is happening, and they should not pass us. We let the team ahead of us know the details of the last vehicles to pass us so they know when it's safe to start work. When the work has been completed, we thank the drivers behind us and let them know it is safe to move on. It all happens in less than 10 minutes, and traffic is back to normal very soon.

Rolling road blocks are an important part of what we do; they are effective at limiting delays during incidents and are crucial for the safety of the people working on the motorway. It is an offence not to follow directions given by a traffic officer.

With the morning rush over we are able check up on people who have stopped on the hard shoulder. Most of the time we are alerted to their presence by the regional control centre, who answer the emergency roadside telephones and monitor the network on CCTV. We also often spot people on the hard shoulder while carrying out our routine patrols.

Today, we have already encountered someone with an electrical failure in their car, a couple who have filled up with the wrong type of fuel, and also drivers who have pulled over to check their Sat Nav or make a phone call. These last two examples are not legitimate uses of the hard shoulder - which is for emergency use only - and we ask these drivers to move along as the hard shoulder is a hazardous environment and only for use in an emergency.
 
We're still a new service, but it's striking how the more people know about the Traffic Officer Service, the more they support our work.  It is good to know that the people we meet when carrying out our duties really appreciate our help. After all, reducing congestion is why we're here. It's what the service was set up for and its what we're working hard to deliver.

At the end of the shift we return to base and carry out another vehicle check. There is a debrief session where we update the team manager about the events on our shift, and pass on any information our colleagues starting work may need to know. Our shift over, we are soon back on the road again, this time joining the rest of the motorists heading home after a days work.