Highways England Traffic Officer Service

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Highways England Traffic Officers
Formation 20 June 2003 (Highways England from April 1st 2015)
Type Public body
Legal status Gov Private Company
Purpose Patrol England's motorways and some trunk roads
  • England
Parent organization
Highways England
Website http://www.highways.gov.uk/knowledge/601.aspx

The Highways England Traffic Officer Service (TOS) is an operational unit within the Highways England in England.

In April 2004, Highways Agency Traffic Officers (HATOs) began working alongside police on motorways in the West Midlands.[1] The roll out of traffic officers was completed on 18 July 2006 and they now cover all of the motorway network within England, i.e. that which is owned or managed by the Highways England[clarification needed], and some of the all-purpose trunk road (APTR) network. They work alongside the police in England to reduce congestion caused by incidents. Overall it was estimated to cost the UK economy £3 billion a year with the closure of one lane estimated at up to £400,000 an hour[citation needed]. The introduction of the officers was aimed to reduce the 25% of delays caused by collisions by around 5%.[1] A similar service exists in Wales, staffed by Welsh Government Traffic Officers.

On April 1st 2015 the Highways Agency became Highways England, a government-owned company.



Normally, each patrol has a crew of two. Only team managers, their deputies or specially trained single crew officers may be single crewed - but this limits their capabilities. A pilot of single crewed Traffic Officers is ongoing and planned to be rolled out nationally, starting in September 2013. All crew members wear high-visibility jackets, distinctive by the orange and yellow markings, along with dark blue cargo-style trousers. All staff who work on the network are required to wear steel toe cap boots and have access to other protective equipment such as high visibility waterproof trousers, gloves and safety goggles. Staff have the option to wear a white collared shirt and tie, an open necked white shirt or a navy collared polo shirt. All officers carry a portable Airwave radio.

Vehicles and equipment[edit]

A typical Highways England Traffic Officer vehicle

Traffic officers patrol the motorway network using high-visibility 4x4 patrol vehicles. Such vehicles are used mainly for their ability to tow, or clear broken-down or disabled vehicles to a place of safety off the carriageway if needed. 4x4 vehicles can remain mobile in flood or snow conditions, as well as being able to carry the large amount of safety and recovery equipment (including a basic first aid kit) that the patrols use. Such vehicles also have the advantage of visibility – their size makes them more visible to other motorists when stationary on the hard shoulder. All of the vehicles are liveried with yellow and black Battenburg markings; equipped with a Sepura vehicle mounted TETRA digital radio; hands-free mobile telephone; have the benefit of red and amber LED lightbars and additional LED lights. All of the latest vehicles are fitted with alternating headlights (wigwags) and a bull horn to assist with progressing through stationary traffic on approach to an incident.

When travelling on the hard shoulder, vehicles use front- and rear-facing amber lighting, and are restricted to 20 mph (HETO procedures). When stationary on hard shoulder, vehicles illuminate rear-facing amber LEDs. However, when the vehicle is working in the carriageway all the rear-facing lights (amber and red) are displayed to act as a warning to approaching traffic. Traffic officers, unlike police, must comply with all speed limits (including temporary mandatory limits in roadworks).

These procedures differ from police procedures, whereby the police will employ rear-facing `reds' only when stationary on the hard shoulder, to identify a stationary vehicle. Whilst stationary on the hard shoulder and if a traffic officer feels it is necessary - due to the weather or location - they may activate the red rear lights, in addition to the amber lights. This will be noted in the traffic officer's pocket notebook as a dynamic risk assessment and also relayed to the Regional Control Centre (RCC) for entry on to the log.

Each vehicle carries 650 kg (1,430 lb) of equipment which includes traffic cones, basic first-aid kits, warning lights, water containers, road-clearance equipment and towing/recovery gear – all contained in a heavy steel bolted-in rack system. They also have variable message signs (VMS) at the rear.

The traffic officers use different models of 4x4 vehicles, all diesel-powered with automatic transmissions. Vehicles current used for patrolling are: Land Rover Discovery 4 and Mitsubishi Shogun BK.

When first introduced into service, the Mitsubishi Shogun was operating above the vehicle maximum plated axle weight. This continued for some time and faced with the option of withdrawing from service, the HA eventually addressed this situation, with the assistance of Mitsubishi, by uprating the rear springs and therefore allowing the vehicles to be operated with the manufacturer's specification again.

Previous vehicles used included Mitsubishi Grandis (for team managers) Mitsubishi Shogun (CK Model), Nissan Pathfinder, Range Rover and Toyota Land Cruiser. The Pathfinder was discontinued in service once the vehicles had reached the end of their lease for operational reason as the vehicle was considered unsuitable. This was due to the vehicle stance, squat low at the rear, when carrying the HA equipment. This upset the vehicle handling and obstructed the rear vision.[citation needed]

Previously HETO vehicles were leased on an 18-month / 150,000 mile contract through Lloyds leasing (which became Lex Leasing in 2009). A new contract was awarded on 8 February 2010 to VT (now Babcock) Group for the provision and maintenance of the 207 strong fleet.[2]

The lighting equipment is supplied and maintained by Woodway Engineering Ltd, in Coventry, using Whelen LED light bars and auxiliary LED lights. Fitting is done by various conversion companies around the UK.[citation needed]


Traffic Officers maintain contact with each other and the RCC by use of Sepura hand-held and vehicle TETRA Radios, utilising the Airwave network, enabling officers to co-ordinate with other Airwave users (e.g. local Road Traffic Policing officers). Each patrol vehicle is also fitted with a handsfree mobile phone.[citation needed]

Incident support units[edit]

Although liveried similar to the patrol vehicles, incident support units (ISU) are part of the managing agent contracts. They work closely with the traffic officers in dealing with incidents on the network. For example, they can carry more equipment (in quantity terms), a wider range of kit and deal with certain infrastructure elements that traffic officers are not able to work on.[3][4]


Between 1 December 2007 and 30 November 2008, traffic officers patrolled 2,025 miles (3,259 km) of (Highways England managed) motorways and trunk roads across England, every hour of every day and attended over 281,000 incidents, an average of one incident every two minutes.[5] Due to government budget cuts in 2013, traffic officers no longer patrol the network. They are instructed to be reactive and only attend reported incidents.

Traffic officers attend incidents ranging from breakdowns and road debris to minor Road Traffic Collisions (RTC) releasing the police motorway patrols to concentrate on criminal activities on the network and serious RTCs.

At serious RTCs, the police take control of the incident and will generally be assisted by traffic officers, making use of the RCC for setting of electronic traffic signs. A "silver" command will be established at the RCC to manage the incident from the Highways England's perspective, controlled by a duty operations manager.

Other incidents traffic officers attend include; debris in the carriageway, spillages, animals, fires (to support the fire service), pedestrians, vulnerable persons, broken-down vehicles and network defects.


In addition to a number of exemptions from the Road Traffic Act and Motorway Regulations (such as stopping on the hard shoulder, driving/reversing on the hard shoulder), Traffic Officers derive powers from the Traffic Management Act 2004 and The Removal and Disposal of Vehicles (Traffic Officers) (England) Regulations 2008.

Under The Traffic Signs (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations and General Directions 2011, which became effective on 30 January 2012, traffic officers are also exempt from certain requirements in the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions, and so are motorists when acting under the direction of a traffic officer.[6]

Traffic Management Act 2004[edit]

Officers must follow the directions of a police constable,[7] and to exercise their powers, must be on duty and in uniform.[8]

For the purposes of:[8]

  • maintaining or improving the movement of traffic on a relevant road over which the traffic officer has jurisdiction
  • preventing or reducing the effect of anything causing (or which has the potential to cause) congestion or other disruption to the movement of traffic on such a road,
  • avoiding danger to persons or other traffic using such a road (or preventing risks of any such danger arising),
  • preventing damage to, or to anything on or near, such a road,

a traffic officer may:[9]

  • direct a person driving or propelling a vehicle to stop the vehicle, or to make it proceed in, or keep to, a particular line of traffic,
  • for the purposes of a traffic survey of any description which is being carried out on or in the vicinity of a road, to direct a person driving or propelling a vehicle to stop the vehicle, or to make it proceed in, or keep to, a particular line of traffic, or to proceed to a particular point on or near the road on which the vehicle is being driven or propelled (subject to the restriction in section 35(3) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52)),
  • to direct persons on foot (or such persons and other traffic) to stop,
  • to direct a person driving a mechanically propelled vehicle, or riding a cycle, on a road to stop the vehicle or cycle,
  • to place temporary traffic signs and cones on a road.[10]

Assaulting, resisting or willfully obstructing an officer are offences.[11] It is also an offence to impersonate an officer, or for an officer to claim they enjoy more powers than they do.[11] HE traffic officers do not have any powers of detention; to search, issue fixed penalties or report for summons for any motoring offence.

Drivers are obliged by the Traffic Management Act 2004 to comply with the directions given by officers.[12] This is briefly explained in the Highway Code:

Highways England Traffic Officers have powers to stop vehicles on most motorways and some 'A' class roads, in England only. If HE traffic officers in uniform want to stop your vehicle on safety grounds (e.g. an insecure load) they will, where possible, attract your attention by

  • flashing amber lights, usually from behind
  • directing you to pull over to the side by pointing and/or using the left indicator

You MUST then pull over and stop as soon as it is safe to do so. Then switch off your engine. It is an offence not to comply with their directions.

Removal and disposal of vehicles[edit]

Since 2009, traffic officers have the powers to directly arrange recovery of abandoned, broken down or damaged vehicles. Previously this was arranged through the respective local police forces but, in accordance with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) transfer of responsibilities, the Highways Agency gained the relevant powers in 2008. The use of recovery powers are in accordance with strict guidance and instructions.

In October 2008, FMG Support were appointed as the Highways Agency's national vehicle recovery manager (NVRM). The NVRM will act as the Highways Agency's liaison with the recovery operators, who will be appointed to recovery vehicles as instructed.

The powers to allow traffic officers to remove vehicles are detailed in "The Removal and Disposal of Vehicles (Traffic Officers) (England) Regulations 2008"[13]

In circumstances where motorists cannot make suitable private arrangements, traffic officers will be able to offer a "facilitated recovery". The NVRM is appointed to arrange recovery of the motorist's vehicle. Motorists have two hours to make suitable arrangements. Under Section 99 of the Road Traffic Act 1984, if this time lapses a "statutory removal" can be invoked. Vehicles that are in a dangerous location or causing an obstruction can also be removed under Section 99, regardless of the time elapsed. The NVRM will undertake the arrangement of any recovery. There are strict controls about the use of statutory removals.[14]

Regional Control Centres[edit]

There are seven Regional Control Centres located across England. These RCCs function as the daily operations control rooms. Management of the on-road functions is controlled by one of three Heads of On Road managers. The seven RCCs are controlled by one senior manager.


Each Region is headed up by a Regional Operations Manager (ROM) and a number of Operations Managers (OM). Each OM has an area of responsibility which may be certain areas of the network and outstations, through to planning and control rooms.

Control room[edit]

The control centres answer the orange emergency roadside telephones on the motorway and trunk road network, liaise with breakdown organisations, allocate Traffic Officers to incidents, monitors the CCTV system, control the electronic variable-message signs on the roads and supply information to the NTCC.[15] Some RCCs are jointly staffed by the police.[15]

Death on duty[edit]

On 25th September 2012, Traffic Officer John Walmsley became the first HATO killed on duty. Officer Walmsley was 59 years old. At about 14:50 Officer Walmsley was deployed to attend a single vehicle collision on the M25. Officer Walmsley and his colleague dragged the damaged vehicle onto the hard shoulder using their patrol vehicle and tow rope. The traffic was then released and normal traffic flow resumed but with speed advisory caution signs illuminated on the overhead matrix gantries. Whilst at the scene awaiting recovery for the crashed vehicle Officer Walmsley was observing passing vehicles whilst implementing traffic management to protect the scene, when, an approaching car lost control and spun towards him. Officer Walmsley could not react in time and the out of control car struck him causing fatal injuries. Over 400 people attended his funeral including 200 traffic officers from all over England.

In 2013 a woman in her 40s pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving and was sentenced to 150 hours community service and a 3-year driving disqualification.[citation needed]

On 22nd February 2016, traffic officer Adam Gibb, 51 and his crew mate were simultaneously struck by a passing vehicle whilst out of their patrol vehicle dealing with the aftermath of an earlier collision on the M6 in Cumbria. It is believed Officer Gibb died instantly whilst members of the public tended to his crew mate awaiting emergency services to attend. The crew mate, who remains unnamed, was airlifted to hospital and remains in a critical condition.


Region Regional Control Centres Outstations
North Rob Lane, Newton-le-Willows
Calder Park, Wakefield
Rob Lane (M6 J22 to J23)

Central Nottingham
(E Mids)
Watford Gap

(W Mids)
Hilton Park
Longbridge (M40 J15)
Strensham (M5 J7-8)

(S West)
Almondsbury(M5 J16)
Stanton St Quinton (M4 J17)
Chelston (M5 J26)
Pridhamsleigh (A38, Buckfastleigh)
South Godstone
South Mimms(M25 J23)
(South East)
Easton Lane (M3 Jct 9)
Weatherhill (M23 Jct 8-9)
Heston(and East Region)

Milton Common
South Mimms

Ranks and grades[edit]

Highways Agency epaulettes
Title Traffic Officer
(Control Centre Operator)
Traffic Officer
Team Manager Operations Manager Head Of (Functional Department)
(Formerly Regional Operations Manager)
Grade TM1a TM1b TM2 TM3 PB8
From August 2009 Highways-Agency-Rank-2009-Traffic-Officer.png Highways-Agency-Rank-2009-Traffic-Officer.png Highways-Agency-Rank-2009-Team-Manager.png Highways-Agency-Rank-2009-Operations-Manager.png Highways-Agency-Rank-2009-Regional-Operations-Manager.png
Before August 2009 Highways-agency-staff.GIF Highways-agency-staff2.GIF Highways-agency-manager.GIF Highways-agency-op-man.GIF Highways-agency-reg-man.GIF

The numbers shown are for purposes of illustration only.
Each member of staff of the Highways Agency Traffic Officer Service bears his or her own individual "HA" shoulder number.

From August 2009 the colour and rank system changed following feedback from staff. The new design removed the dual colour/rank system replacing it with a simple and easy to understand design.

The HA issued staff with a tie in the colour of the new epaulettes.


External links[edit]