‘I patrol the M6 and these are some of the weirdest things I see’

They are essential to keeping the country moving, but motorway patrol officers[1] see strange, dangerous and even abusive behaviour from motorists every day.

The blue, yellow and orange chequered cars belonging to National Highways officers are a common sight on the M6 and M42 – but the complex and often dangerous nature of their roles is often unknown, or even ignored, by drivers.

Chatting to BirminghamLive[2] from her post in the Bescot station on the M6, National Highways officer Sian Plant revealed some of the obscure and often abusive behaviour from furious drivers.

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‘You can’t park there’

From people who decide last minute to come off at a junction and flip their car to people who so regularly run out of petrol they keep a Jerry can in their boot, and even cows falling out of lorries, Sian has seen it all.

Sian, 26, said: “Some people just don’t realise what job we actually do. We don’t put a lane closure out unless we really have to. To make it safe for other motorists.

“A couple of days ago on the M5 closure [there were] quite a few diversions and quite a few angry motorists. They were calling us names out the window, clapping their horns, we only shut it because we had to.

National Highways officer Sian Plant, 26, patrols the West Midlands’ road network from her post in Bescot on the M6

“At the end of the day we are just doing our jobs, I get that it is frustrating but we only close things if we have to.” And she revealed the most common form of abuse is a four-word hit from angry drivers.

“The main one that we get is ‘you can’t park there!’

“We do get called bad names they just shout anything and everything.” And shockingly, Sian has been subject to sexist slurs on a number of occasions.

‘I do get cat-called’

“I do get cat-called I just ignore it, people will get out and shout abuse they are frustrated because they have been sat there for a while. It is usually the people further back who can’t see what’s going on.”

The latest figures from action group Think Respect says 60 per cent of all roadworkers and other people working on the public highway get daily abuse. In 2023 a total of 2307 reported being either verbally or physically abused whilst at work out on the public highway.

Incidents included being threatened with a gun, a knife and a machete attack. Sian explained that often the abuse will come from drivers further down from an incident who have seen the very end of the clean up operation once it is on the side of the road and not at its most critical moment.

She also explained why a whole motorway closure is necessary: “If [the crash] is in lane three, to get it moved across to the hard shoulder we have to move it across the whole carriageway.

“Obviously it can be unsafe for motorists to get across it but a lot don’t understand.” A typical day for Sian, who has worked as an officer for two years, starts with checking the car and all the kit.

She then gets out on patrol and to “strategic locations” on the M6 where they can deploy easily. What was the first thing she noticed when she started her role?

‘We got the initial call of the cow in carriageway’

“I did not realise how bad the driving standard could be” replied Sian. She also explained the unbelievable moment a call came in to crews last August that cows had fallen out of an HGV[5] on the M6, sparking chaos.

“A couple of cows that had fallen out of an HGV. A cow got dropped at junction 8 and further down at junction 10. We got the initial call of the cow in carriageway, we thought no it can’t be.

Cattle on the M6
Cattle on the M6

“For any animals on the network, we have to close both sides of the carriageway. The cow job was not one we were expecting.”

Sian explained it was actually the police who managed to find someone on the motorway with an empty trailer who helped herd the cows up.

One of the more basic yet surprising issues she encounters is people who have run out of fuel in the middle of the motorway. “There are quite a few instances where we have gone and it’s not their first time that [running out of petrol] has happened to them,” she said.

Sian patrols the region’s network with a partner in shifts, and her advice to anyone using the motorway is simple: “You need to be prepared”

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  1. ^ motorway patrol officers (www.birminghammail.co.uk)
  2. ^ to BirminghamLive (www.birminghammail.co.uk)
  3. ^ ‘Worst’ parking in Birmingham called out by police as raft of tickets issued (www.birminghammail.co.uk)
  4. ^ Join the FREE Birmingham Live WhatsApp community (www.birminghammail.co.uk)
  5. ^ fallen out of an HGV (www.birminghammail.co.uk)
  6. ^ BirminghamLive WhatsApp (chat.whatsapp.com)