Abuse of those trying to keep the roads safe is unacceptable - A National Highways Traffic Officer
When traffic officer Dave Harford witnessed a driver speeding the wrong way down the hard shoulder of the M42 in torrential rain, past a queue of traffic sitting behind a major incident he instinctively shouted out ‘STOP’.
But the driver was so infuriated by this safety intervention that he jumped out of his vehicle and immediately squared up to National Highways officer Dave.
“He was shouting and swearing, I really thought I was about to be punched,” recalls Dave. “His pregnant wife was in the car and she started swearing at me too.”
In fact, there was a large HGV blaze on the road ahead which was why the motorway was at a standstill. Dave and his colleagues were methodically and safely releasing the trapped traffic when they saw the rogue driver.
“It wasn’t just that it wasn’t safe for him to do his own thing,” said Dave. “It also prompts others to follow suit and then we have chaos.”
The incident was made worse when Dave turned around to see a van driver clapping the aggressive motorist claiming the traffic officer was ‘just being a jobsworth.”
Sadly, scenes like this are not unusual for Dave and his colleagues. Abuse ranges from the beeping of the horn to verbal insults, rude hand gestures and even physical assaults. Not just from private vehicles but also professional drivers.
“People will actually slow down in a live lane to wind down the window and shout abuse at us for holding them up. Where is the sense in that?
“Some drivers, thankfully the minority, seem to have a sense of entitlement and think the rules don’t apply to them. Since lockdown I have noticed a deterioration in driving standards, but there would in fact be fewer incidents and delays if people observed the rules of the road.
“No-one wants to be delayed on their journey, Nobody should go to work to face abuse when they are just trying to help people like we do.
“How would those drivers feel if they were being shouted at in their workplace, if our roles
were swapped and I was shouting at them?
“Traffic officers are the face of National Highways, we are on the frontline the same
as the police and fire service, and we are the target of drivers’ frustrations and anger. But we are human too and we are doing our job, which is to help people.
“Some people do apologise when they have calmed down, but not many.”
National Highways has protections in place to protect traffic officers. All carry radios with
an emergency button on the top that, when activated, alerts their colleagues.
The patrol vehicles have cameras and control room teams have sight of their colleagues
through CCTV cameras on much of the network.
In addition, all traffic officers now have body worn cameras which Dave thinks are ‘worth
their weight in gold’ and can quickly de-escalate a situation when an aggressor realises they are going to be filmed.
He explained: “The cameras work with members of the public who are upset about being
delayed but then calm down. Unfortunately there are some people who will continue to be
“The cameras are peace of mind when it comes to getting prosecutions. They show
clear footage and audio and the police are very supportive and do prosecute.”
This wouldn’t be necessary though if such appalling abuse didn’t happen in the first place.
Dave has his own thoughts on how to reduce the risk of abuse for road workers.
He would like stronger punishments to act as a deterrent and a ‘more straightforward’ process as he thinks the need for footage, paperwork and lengthy legal processes can put people off reporting incidents.
“I think traffic officers should be treated similarly to other emergency services staff and
there should be a high penalty for abusing us.
Why not give people 6 points on their licence for abusing a traffic officer – let them then
explain to their insurers or employers why they have so many points.”
He also thinks getting out information to road users is key as people are less frustrated if they understand why a road is closed, roadworks are in place or what is happening with an incident ahead.
Getting more and better information to road users is a key theme in National Highways’
recently published Digital Roads vision.
Despite some of the abuse he encounters, Dave does love his job and after many years on
the road both with National Highways and as an AA patrol man he is rarely surprised by the
reactions of some road users. But that doesn’t mean it is acceptable.
That is why he is supporting the Stamp it Out campaign and the collaborative action being
taken by the industry to help protect road workers.
For more information visit www.stampitout.uk