Fears as Traffic Officers' budget slashed

Fears as Traffic Officers' budget slashed

The Highways Agency is cutting the cash spent on Traffic Officers – famously dubbed 'Wombles' by Jeremy Clarkson - by £13m.

The officers – seen patrolling major motorway and trunk roads in high visibility off-roaders – help in the aftermath of accidents and assist broken down vehicles, helping traffic get moving again.But an exclusive AOL Cars investigation has found that despite the Highways Agency Traffic Officers' (HATOs) effectiveness, their budget is still being slashed from £79m to £66m in 2014.

We submitted a Freedom of Investigation request to the agency that required it to release the budget details.

The data also revealed that the cuts come despite the fact average motorway journey times are increasing and it's now taking longer to clear up after accidents, according to official customer satisfaction levels.

A spokesman for the Institute of Advanced Motorists told AOL Cars that he fears these cuts will mean drivers will spend even longer in traffic jams in the future.

IAM head of technical policy Tim Shallcross said: "We used to have traffic police sweeping up after a crash – a job now performed much more cost effectively by the Highways Agency Traffic Officers (HATOs).

"A reduction in HATOs will certainly not be made up by an increase in police, so the result will inevitably be longer jams and greater delays after crashes."

Shallcross added that he felt savings should be made in the "back office" rather than cutting the budget of patrols.

The RAC agreed that HATOs play a major role in road safety and added their fears that a reduction in budget could be at the detriment to motorists.

"There is an unfortunate tendency for motorists to under appreciate HATOs' work," said RAC technical director David Bizley.

"This often changes when a traffic officer comes to their aid or they experience their traffic management skills in a major incident.

"Any financial reduction to the service may sadly be to the detriment of motorists. This could become particularly apparent next year with the hard shoulders of a number of motorways being opened on a permanent basis.

"In the event of an accident or breakdown Traffic Officers will be motorists' first line of defence from others vehicles, especially as refuge areas will be up to 2.5km apart."

A Highways Agency spokesperson said: "Along with virtually every other public service in the UK, at the Highways Agency we're reviewing how we work to find savings and reduce the national deficit.

"Our Traffic Management Future Operating Model programme, which includes the Traffic Officer Service, has identified savings and driven efficiency through smarter ways of working and genuine innovation. We have not reduced our operational capability, which continues to improve."

What do you think? Do HATOs do an effective job and the budget cut is a mistake? Or will we not even notice? Let us know by commenting below.
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