“It was almost like the best laxative known to man,” says Frank Bird on 20th anniversary of being one of first Traffic Officers

April 26, 2024 by

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The first Traffic Officers were deployed on UK motorways for the first time in 2004. To celebrate their 20th anniversary, one of the first Traffic Officers shares some highs and lows of the job…

  • It’s 20 years since we’ve had Traffic Officers on our motorways
  • One of the first Traffic Officers, Frank Bird, shares his experiences
  • Traffic Officers dealt with 130,000 breakdowns on motorways last year
  • Over 5 million motorists helped over the last 20 years

On the 20th anniversary of Traffic Officers being introduced on UK motorways, one of the original officers, Frank Bird, has been recalling the variety of experiences he’s had and people he’s met on Britain’s roads over the years.

It’s 20 years since the first Traffic Officers were deployed in UK roads

In 20 years, Traffic Officers have helped over five million motorists, while the number of Traffic Officers has increased from 90 to over 1,000 who dealt with over 130,000 breakdowns on our motorways last year.

Since becoming one of the first Traffic Officers in 2004, Frank Bird’s role has seen him meet celebrities ranging from the popstar Pink to Prime Minister Tony Blair. He also got to hold the spare torch when the London 2012 Summer olympics passed through the Midlands, but the best and most rewarding highlight for him has been helping people when they break down.

Frank Bird carrying the Olympic Torch

Frank remembers one occasion when he met a couple whose car had broken down en route to taking their son to have a liver transplant. “I made the decision for the patrol vehicle to take the mother and son on to the hospital while we stayed with the father until the recovery service arrived,” said Frank. “Had the young lad not made it in time for the operation, there is every chance he may not be with us now,” Frank continued.

Remembering the first time he stepped out to temporarily hold the traffic in a live motorway lane, Frank said: “It was almost like the best laxative known to man. It was quite a surreal but rewarding experience.”

Frank Bird (second from left) with other Traffic Officers visiting 10 downing Street when Tony Blair was Prime Minister

Frank says the role of a Traffic Officer is unique: “I couldn’t find anything anywhere in the world that was quite like our service whose primary role was to look after the welfare of the motorist. We weren’t there to repair roads or build new bridges, but to make journeys safer and hopefully a more pleasant experience.”

In his latest role as Senior Network Planner at National Highways, Frank is responsible for managing the Midlands road network for major events and large-scale incidents. This has included managing traffic attending the 2023 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and making sure 34,000 people arrived at (the then) RICOH Arena for a concert by the artist, Pink.

It’s important to know what to do if you break down on the motorway. This includes switching on the vehicle’s hazard warning lights, getting everyone in the vehicle needing to wear hi-vis jacker, and to stand behind the safety barrier.

Emergency refuge areas replaced the hard shoulder on smart motorways

The safety risk when breaking down on smart motorways has been in the news again recently following an investigation by the BBC TV programme, Panorama, highlighting the alarming number of times cameras installed to detect stranded vehicles were not working.

Plans for any future smart motorways have been cancelled by the government following pressure from campaigners about inadequate Emergency Refuge Areas. National Highways has announced plans to install 52 extra Emergency Refuge Centres on smart motorways in the south east of England this summer.  Lane closures during the roadworks are extended to cause traffic delays. Work started on the M25 on 25 April and is expected to continue until the early summer.

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