What's it really like?
Darren Nuttall is thirty nine years old and is an On Road Traffic Officer. He gives us the inside story.
I’ve been an on- road traffic officer for five years and I know it’s a cliché, but you never know what’s going to happen each day. This really helps to keep you on your toes and means that every day is full of variety. There’s no such thing as a typical day in this job because things change so quickly, but there are certain things I do a lot.
Firstly, I work very hard with other agencies to get incidents cleared from the motorway as soon as possible. It’s essential to keep the motorway moving as efficiently as possible. This means that in addition to sorting out accidents, I also deal with broken down vehicles to make sure they have recovery and the necessary safety advice. I also deal with anything on the motorways which shouldn’t be there - this includes debris which may cause an obstacle or hazard to drivers. Lastly, I am occasionally required to deal with any pedestrians who are on the motorway to ensure that both they and other road users are kept safe.
I find my job extremely exciting. It’s so rewarding to be able to help those who are in difficulty on the motorway. People can get caught up in quite frightening experiences and it’s so fulfilling to be able to help them. There’s also an adrenaline rush when I’m dealing with the bigger jobs. It’s essential to clear things up as quickly as possible so it can be quite challenging when I have to respond to a big incident.
Of course there are down sides to every job. I find it less enjoyable as a Highways Officer when the roads are quiet and there’s nothing to do. However this does mean that the travelling public are having safe and efficient journeys on the motorways.
Before this job I worked as a works supervisor, so I was used to being on the roads and gained a lot of experience this way. For those people considering coming into this line of work and who haven’t got any similar experience it’s important to remember that Highways Officers provide a continuous service to the public. This means that you are likely to be asked to do shift work and to work weekends and public holidays when other people are off work. Some of the worst incidents happen in very bad weather, particularly in the winter. Conditions can be cold and bleak and you will often be the first people to the scene. This means you may see fatalities which can be quite distressing.
To do this job well, it helps if you are good at responding to situations at short notice and can show initiative and leadership in difficult situations. It’s important to be able to remain calm at all times and to be able to communicate well with other services and the general public.
This job is important for avoiding chaos on the motorways, for enhancing road safety and for dealing with incidents as quickly as possible. It’s rewarding, fulfilling and can be extremely fast-paced which is exciting. I love my work and hope to be in this job until retirement age!
Highways Officers exist to ensure that traffic on motorways runs safely and smoothly. They patrol motorways in order to ease congestion and make sure the journeys of road users are as safe and efficient as possible.
Highways Officers are linked to Regional Control Centre Operators, based in seven locations around the country. These operators identify incidents and areas of congestion and direct the Highways Officers to areas requiring on-road support.
Highways Officers work on a rota basis to ensure that motorways are kept safe twenty four hours a day the whole year round. There are a number of duties fulfilled by Highways Officers which broadly involve reducing incident-related collisions, improving road safety for all road users, improving journey time reliability and building good customer relations. The role of a Highways Officer is varied and can include tasks as diverse as closing down motorways when work is being done, clearing up debris after collisions and providing evidence for legal proceedings relating to traffic accidents.
- Reduce incident-related collisions
- Ensure the swift and safe removal of broken down, damaged and abandoned vehicles
- Clear up debris in the road which could cause a potential hazard to other road users.
- Act as a liaison/contact point between the various emergency services involved in incidents.
- Improve road safety
- Conduct high visibility patrols of motorways
- Close down sections of the motorway on a temporary basis whilst work is carried out on them.
- Escort abnormal and high-risk vehicles as required.
- Deal with any pedestrians who are on the motorway for any reason
- Improve journey time for road users
- Monitor and evaluate any infrastructural or road works taking place on the motorway
- Build good customer relations
- Support special events
- Organise Temporary Road closures
- Escort vehicles along a particular route
- Assist with legal proceedings by giving evidence as a witness
Salaries for Highways Officers typically start at around £23,000 although with extra shift allowances and experience this can increase up to £40,000. Highways Officers are paid according to the type of shifts they work. Those working 24/7 i.e. during the day and night typically receive a 20% shift allowance and those working a ‘double day’ pattern with no night time work receive a 12.5% shift allowance.
Highways Officers usually receive 222 hours annual leave with an additional eight days bank holidays and two and a half ‘privilege days’ off. Lieu time is offered for those working bank holidays.
Highways Officers are generally required to undertake shift work and night shifts are routine. They are often required to work in bad weather which is when many incidents and collisions occur. This means that working conditions may be challenging, particularly during the winter months when the cold weather and limited visibility may make motorway use more hazardous than usual. Highways Officers must be prepared for prolonged periods of inactivity as well as times when long spells of work may be required without a break. Most Highways Officers work on a full-time basis although some employers do recruit part time staff.
Highways Officers must have a range of skills including:
- Excellent communication skills.
- The ability to listen, follow instructions and report back to their senior as required.
- Ability to work as part of a team.
- Ability to liaise effectively with other agencies and organisations such as the emergency services as well as members of the public.
- Ability to remain calm under pressure, particularly when managing incidents.
- Ability to provide clear information about road networks to all who require it.
- An awareness and concern for road safety.
- Ability to lead others if required.
- Good people skills.
- Ability to use initiative.
- Ability to plan and prioritise tasks.
- Ability to make quick and efficient decisions in challenging circumstances.
- Ability to work in a variety of conditions including difficult weather.
A degree is not required for Highways Officers but they are required to undergo an intensive Foundation Training Course before starting the job which provides training in incident management, customer service, motorway patrol and other skills necessary for the job. Highways Officers must have had a full and valid UK driving license for at least two years with no more than 3 points on it. They must also complete a medical and security check, including a Criminal Records Bureau Check.
With experience there are good opportunities for Highways Officers to take on more responsibility and eventually progress to becoming a Traffic Office Team Manager. This means that they are responsible for briefing crews of any recent incidents and gathering intelligence in relation to the work. They are also responsible for completing staff development and human resources work as well as checking on the welfare of staff. Team Managers also need to visit other outstations and control rooms to liaise with colleagues in other teams. Traffic Office Team Managers are usually required to have the City & Guilds Level 3 Certificate in Traffic Management