DON’T underestimate the powers of Highways England Traffic Officers. Because if you cross them, you could end up with a £1,000 fine, a driving licence endorsement or even a disqualification!
The Highways England Traffic Officers patrol UK motorways and A-roads, using hi-visibility 4x4s that, on first glance, look just like police cars. They’ve been working alongside traditional cops since 2004 and they’re tasked mainly with keeping traffic flowing. While they don’t have the same powers as the police, you can easily fall foul of them.
Traffic Officers have jurisdiction to stop vehicles on most motorways and some ‘A’ class roads, in order to divert traffic away from a crash. Failing to follow their direction is considered a punishable offence. Traffic Officers can also come up behind you, flash their amber lights and pull your vehicle over on safety grounds - for example, if they think you’re carrying an insecure load.
Again, if you don’t pull over and switch off your engine, it’s a punishable offence which could leave you £1,000 out-of-pocket and with points on your licence. Mark Tongue, of leading UK vehicle leasing firm Select Car Leasing, says many drivers on British roads have no idea what Traffic Officers can and can’t do.
He says: “Most drivers will have, at some point on their travels, taken a deep breath, released their foot from the floor and checked their speed upon seeing a Traffic Officer.
“From a distance, they are easily mistaken for the police, and perhaps that’s no bad thing if it means motorists become more mindful of their speed and behaviour. The problem is that there is a lot of uncertainty from the driving public about the role and power of traffic officers, and it is time this changed.
“Traffic Officers have no powers to report motorists for driving offences. But disobey them at your peril. And if they see a driver behaving badly, which then in turn causes an accident, footage from CCTV cameras hidden inside their vehicles can be passed to police to secure a prosecution.”
Traffic Officers have become a familiar sight since being introduced onto England’s roads 15 years ago. After being trialled in the West Midlands, they became firmly established across the country within two years.
Any motorist who may want to question why one has brought traffic to a standstill, should look no further than the Traffic Management Act 2004 which gave Traffic Officers the power to manage, stop and direct traffic, and also to close lanes and carriageways where they see fit. According to Highways England, they perform a critical role in keeping traffic on England’s motorways and A roads flowing. They have been shown to play a significant role in minor and major incidents, including coordinating the emergency services and managing traffic so as to reduce incident related congestion.
Traffic Officers can also be seen on the carriageway clearing debris from accidents, supporting police, and re-opening routes once they have been made safe. Highways England explains how their officers play an important part in reducing the impact of incident-related congestion, and also in reducing the risk of secondary incidents by clearing incident scenes quickly.
In addition to offering support if they spot a motorist that has broken down or been involved in an accident, they also have the power to remove abandoned or damaged vehicles.
In fact, they can legally move a vehicle, known as ‘statutory removal’, if they believe it is blocking traffic or endangering road users. These powers extend to removal if the owner cannot arrange a recovery truck to attend within a reasonable time, or if a motor has been left unattended. And if they think the proposed vehicle recovery arrangements being made are unsuitable or unsafe, they can also tow the van, truck or car away.
However, they must remain on scene throughout, and, where possible, make a thorough check that suitable private recovery arrangements have been put in place.
What few drivers may also not know about Traffic Officers is that they also supply information for local travel reports.
The Police Federation held discussions in 2017 aimed at potentially expanding the role and power of Highways England Traffic Officers.
Select Car Leasing director Mark Tongue adds: “As it stands, Traffic Officers can’t stop you for speeding or issue you with a ticket. But if Government Ministers hand them more powers, as they’d like to, they could well begin enforcing speeding laws and prosecuting motorists caught using mobile phones.
“If you don’t want to get caught out however, then the best way is to simply not break the law in the first place!”