Wild pigs, breakdowns and random roof racks - it's all in a day's work for Highways England's M1 patrol team
BREAKDOWNS, accidents and the occasional wild pig — that’s life on the road for Highways England’s motorway patrol officers.
You might mistake them for police with their hi-viz gear and dayglo-chequered Land Rover, but genial duo Andy Ramsden and Antony Mills won't nick you for speeding.
Andy and Antony confirm the public do sometimes mistake their vehicles for police cars and moderate their speed accordingly, which can only boost road safety, but in reality they serve a different function.
They perform a public safety service — checking up on vehicles stopped at the roadside, shifting potentially dangerous debris and backing up the emergency services after accidents, vehicle fires or other incidents.
Putting out cones as cars whoosh by, shrugging off abuse from held-up drivers and occasionally fielding traffic-related queries from the public, the pair oversee the M1 between junctions 30 and 36, including the busy spots around Rotherham and Meadowhall.
It’s about halfway through our two-hour patrol that I put my foot in it, suggesting thing have been pretty quiet so far.
“Oh no, you’ve done it now,” Andy tells me, suggesting I’m tempting fate. “You never use the ‘q’ word!”
Two minutes later, as predicted, the patrolmen are called into action.
Pulling onto the M18 slip road at Hellaby, we come across two men lying on the hard shoulder looking under their car — one extremely close to the passing traffic.
There’s a sharp intake of breath and the patrol pulls over.
Antony goes to have a friendly word with the men about the risk they’re taking, reporting back that they had heard “a rattle”.
Once, Andy recounts, they spotted a motorist whose feet were “dangling into lane one”.
Part of the patrols’ job — there are usually five cars out and about in Yorkshire at any one time — is what Andy described as “a customer service role”, which I see in action as we stop to check up on the driver of a car on the hard shoulder of the M18-M1 link road.
Antony hops out for a chat, confirms she has called a breakdown recovery service and advises her to stand further up the embankment as traffic hurtles past at 70mph.
Andy explains: “It’s not a nice place to be and often we’ll advise people to stand behind the barriers, which can yield 1.2 metres in an accident.
“Antony will take her details and the control centre will call her later to check how the recovery has gone.”
The biggest bit of debris the patrol has to deal with during our drive is a large chunk of rubber matting, but Andy and Antony have both been confronted with sizeable surprises.
“I once had a mattress reported, still in its wrapper,” says Antony, while Andy can go one better: “It was an entire roofbox complete with the roof bars, sitting mangled in lane one. How someone has lost that from their car and not realised I’ve no idea.”
Animal-related incidents are fairly common, with the RSPCA called in to remove injured or dead creatures.
“We do get reports of cows in the road,” says Antony, “and we once had a pig running around on the M62.”
Long shifts behind the wheel wouldn’t appeal to everyone, but Andy and Antony, while admitting “You have to like driving” insist they have plenty to keep them always busy, whether looking for defects in the road, debris to shift and motorists stopping where they shouldn’t be.
“We get a surprising number of people who have run out of petrol, that’s a pretty common,” adds Andy.
Calls from the public also cause the odd chuckle, too.
“Last year we had a call about a lorry shedding its load,” says Andy. “We checked it out — and it turned out to be a gritter!”