Highways England traffic officers

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Highways England Company Limited
Government-owned company
IndustryHighway authority
PredecessorHighways England Edit this on Wikidata
Founded1 April 2015 (2015-04-01)
HeadquartersBridge House
1 Walnut Tree Close
Key people
Jim O'Sullivan
(chief executive)
Colin Matthews
OwnerHM Government
Number of employees
4,700 (2018)

Highways England traffic officers perform a functional role within Highways England.[1]

In April 2004, Highways Agency traffic officers began working alongside police on motorways in the West Midlands. The national 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 Highways England, and some of the all-purpose trunk road (APTR) network.

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

Traffic operations play a significant role in achieving Highways England's three imperatives of safety, customer service and delivery. Traffic officers help to keep the roads moving and road users safe. They provide customer service every day of the year and assist with the delivery of schemes and projects, providing key services such as rolling road block. This is achieved through the planning and delivery of operational services, the function undertaken by on-road traffic officers, the management of the network from Highway England's control centres, the services Highways England supplies to the public, and its national incident liaison role. This aim is underpinned by legislative and regulatory requirements, the Network Operations Partnership Agreement and the National Guidance Framework agreed with the National Police Chiefs' Council.[2]



While patrols were initially always crewed by two traffic officers, following a successful trial in 2013, all traffic officers are to be trained in the near future to operate singly crewed, increasing the potential reach of the service. Traffic officers wear high-visibility jackets, distinctive by the orange and yellow markings. All staff who work on the network are required to wear protective equipment such as safety boots, 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's vehicle

Traffic officers patrol the motorway network [3] and all-purpose trunk roads in high-visibility patrol vehicles that feature black and yellow Battenburg livery, and amber and rear red facing lighting. The vehicles have all wheel drive capability and are used to assist in the management of incidents and where appropriate clear broken-down or disabled vehicles to a place of safety off the carriageway. The vehicles can operate in severe weather and carry equipment including emergency traffic management kits and other specialised equipment required to safely remove vehicles and deal with a range of different incidents they may encounter when on patrol. The combination of the vehicle size, livery and ancillary lighting enhances their visibility when positioned at an incident. They are also fitted with Airwave radio hands-free mobile telephone, alternating flashing headlights and a bull horn to assist with progressing through stationary traffic on approach to an incident. They also have variable message signs (VMS) at the rear.

When travelling on the hard shoulder, vehicles use front- and rear-facing amber lighting, and are restricted to 20 mph. When stationary on the 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 warn approaching traffic. Traffic officers, unlike police, must comply with all speed limits, including temporary mandatory limits in roadworks.

While stationary on the hard shoulder and if a traffic officer feels it is necessary - because of the weather or location - they may use 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 a regional control centre (RCC) for entry on to the log.

The traffic officers use different models of 4x4 vehicles, all diesel-powered with automatic transmissions. Vehicles used for patrolling as of 2018 include Land Rover Discovery and Mitsubishi Shogun models.


Traffic officers maintain contact with each other and the regional operational control centres by use of Sepura hand-held and vehicle TETRA radios using the Airwave network, and enabling officers to co-ordinate with other Airwave users. Each patrol vehicle is also fitted with a hands-free mobile phone.


Traffic officers attend incidents ranging from breakdowns and road debris to serious road traffic collisions (RTCs) taking the lead command role, except where there is an incident involving loss of life, life-changing injuries or potential criminal activity.

Traffic officers patrol approximately 3,565 miles of the road network, and in 2017 the total number of incidents attended was 230,122.


Traffic officers principally derive powers from the Traffic Management Act 2004 [4] and have jurisdiction over the strategic road network of England, under authorisation given by the secretary of state.

Traffic Management Act 2004[edit]

Traffic officers comply with the directions of a police constable[5], and to exercise their powers must be on duty and in uniform.

For the purposes of:

  • 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:

  • 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))
  • when regulating vehicular traffic in a road, direct persons on foot (or such persons and other traffic) to stop
  • direct a person driving a mechanically propelled vehicle, or riding a cycle, on a road to stop the vehicle or cycle
  • place and temporarily maintain traffic signs on a road
  • remove and dispose of vehicles in line with The Removal and Disposal of Vehicles (Traffic Officers) (England) Regulations 2008

Assaulting, resisting or wilfully obstructing a traffic officer in the execution of their duties is an offence. It is also an offence to impersonate a traffic officer, or for a traffic officer to claim to have more powers than they do. Highways England traffic officers do not have any powers of detention, or to search, issue fixed penalties or report for summons for any motoring offence. Breaching a rolling road block is an offence which is likely to be prosecuted. The number of prosecutions has increased as traffic officer vehicles are now fitted with CCTV, allowing enhanced records to be made of incident management and for evidential purposes when required.

Drivers are obliged by the Traffic Management Act 2004 to comply with directions given by officers;[6] 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 traffic officers in uniform require you to stop your vehicle on safety grounds (e.g. an insecure load) they will:

  • attract your attention through the use of flashing amber lights and headlights, usually from behind
  • direct you to pull over to the side by hand signals and/or using the left indicator

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

Removal and disposal of vehicles[edit]

Since 2008, Traffic Officers have had the powers to directly arrange recovery of abandoned, broken-down or damaged vehicles. Previously this had been arranged through local police forces. The use of recovery powers is in accordance with strict guidance and instructions.

Highways England has its own national recovery contract used by traffic officers when removing vehicles on a statutory basis. Since October 2013 this service has been delivered by FMG support via a national network of recovery operators, appointed to recover 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".[7]

Vehicles that are in a dangerous location or causing an obstruction can be removed at any time under Section 99 of the Road Traffic Act 1984; in other cases motorists have two hours to make arrangements for recovery. Where they cannot make suitable arrangements in this time, under Section 99 a "statutory removal", subject to strict controls, can be invoked, and traffic officers may offer a "facilitated recovery". The NVRM is appointed to arrange recovery of vehicles.

Regional control centres[edit]

There are seven regional operational control centres located across England. These RCCs and ROCs function as the daily operations control rooms.

Control centres answer the orange emergency roadside telephones on the motorway and trunk road network, liaise with breakdown organisations, allocate traffic officers to incidents, monitor the CCTV system, control the electronic variable-message signs[8] on the roads and supply information to the NTCC. Some RCCs are co-located with the police.


Region Regional control centre / Regional operations centre Outstations
North West Rob Lane, Newton-le-Willows Rob Lane
North East Calder Park, Wakefield Tingley
West Midlands Quinton Ansty
Hilton Park
East Midlands Nottingham Shepshed
Watford Gap
East South Mimms Whittlesford
Milton Common
South Mimms
South East Godstone Easton Lane
South West Avonmouth Almondsbury
Stanton St Quinton


  1. ^ "Highways England". www.gov.uk.
  2. ^ "Update on the Infrastructure Policing Review". www.btpolfed.org.uk.
  3. ^ "Civilian patrols police motorways". BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation. 26 April 2004. Retrieved 1 January 2008.
  4. ^ "Traffic Management Act 2004". www.opsi.gov.uk.
  5. ^ "Traffic Management Act 2004". www.legislation.gov.uk. Expert Participation. Retrieved 4 December 2018.CS1 maint: others (link)
  6. ^ "Traffic Management Act 2004". www.opsi.gov.uk.
  7. ^ "The Removal and Disposal of Vehicles (Traffic Officers) (England) Regulations 2008". www.legislation.gov.uk.
  8. ^ ""The Traffic Signs (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations and General Directions 2011"". www.legislation.gov.uk.

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