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Last Updated: Monday, 26 April, 2004, 14:42 GMT 15:42 UK
Civilian patrols police motorways
Highways Agency motorway patrol team with Alistair Darling
The officers will help keep motorway traffic flowing without delays
A team of civilian traffic officers who will help to beat motorway jams has been unveiled in the West Midlands by Transport Secretary Alistair Darling.

The 50-strong Highways Agency force, in high visibility uniform, will patrol the region's motorways and aim to reduce congestion.

They will take on the police role of clearing up after minor accidents.

Motoring organisations have welcomed the move, which may cut delays and free up police time for tackling crime.

This is about getting the motorway network moving
Transport Secretary Alistair Darling

The officers will begin their patrols on the M5, M6 and M42.

But the Highways Agency hopes to roll out more than 1,200 officers across the country by the end of next year.

They will have powers to deal with diversions and help police manage traffic after accidents to minimise hold-ups and delays.

An estimated 3bn is lost each year through motorway congestion in the UK.

Mr Darling said: "This is about getting the motorway network moving.

Considerable figure

"The idea is for them to get the road clear as quickly as possible and to get lorries or cars off the road and get traffic moving again."

He added: "The new traffic officers will improve services to motorists - making journeys more reliable and ensuring time spent in jams is kept to a minimum."

The government claims a quarter of congestion on the UK's roads every year is caused by collisions and crashes.

I would say this is the biggest change in the motorway network since it was launched 50 years ago
David York, Highways Agency
David York, national traffic director for the Highways Agency, said they aimed to reduce that figure by 5% once all the traffic officers were in operation.

He said: "That might not sound like much but when you consider that closing one lane of the M6 or the M1 costs the economy between 200,000 and 400,000 every hour, and a typical incident might take five-and-a-half hours to clear, then that is a considerable figure.

"I would say this is the biggest change in the motorway network since it was launched 50 years ago."

The Highways Agency teams will also be responsible for updating information on overhead gantries on the motorways, Mr York added.

Chief Constable Stephen Green, chair of the Association of Chief Police Officers Roads Policing Operational Forum, said: "The release of police staff will enable chief police officers to refocus the efforts of their staff on patrolling, investigating incidents and reducing crime on the motorway network."

A spokesman for the Automobile Association said: "Road users welcome the appearance of high visibility traffic officers.

"As long as the traffic officers stick to their prime role, motorists should have everything to be pleased about."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Tom Symonds
"The new patrols are not supposed to be doing the job of the police or the fire brigade"



SEE ALSO:
Plan for new 32m M-way lanes
08 Apr 04  |  Bristol/Somerset
Motorways on the congested list
05 Mar 04  |  West Yorkshire


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