A significant proportion of my time as a police officer is spent working in dangerous places. I’m not referring to wrestling with knife-wielding maniacs, pursuing armed robbers or intercepting terrorists. I am talking about working on fast roads.
This is probably the most dangerous working environment for most officers. More police officers die every year working on the roads, than by any other means. Every time I step out of my car to deal with an incident on of these roads I am acutely aware of hundreds of lethal weapons hurtling in my direction at 70mph or more. One wrong move or loss of concentration from a driver and I could meet my maker.
This was brought home in dramatic fashion one night last year when it could all have ended very badly for me and my colleague:
A high number of incidents on the roads involve keeping broken down motorists safe. I deal with one of these at least once in every set of shifts and this one was no different. This vehicle had broken down on a blind left hand bend, on an unlit dual carriageway in the middle of winter. It was early Life in the fast lane.
A significant proportion of my time as a police officer is spent working in dangerous places. I’m not referring to wrestling with knife-wielding maniacs, pursuing armed robbers or intercepting terrorists. I am talking about working on fast roads. .
A high number of incidents on the roads involve keeping broken down motorists safe. I deal with one of these at least once in every set of shifts and this one was no different. This vehicle had broken down on a blind left hand bend, on an unlit dual carriageway, in the middle of winter. It was early evening and the traffic was fairly heavy, but not enough to slow it down to a crawl. I pulled my car in behind the stranded motorist and lit up the scene with flashes of blue and red. The blinking orange hazard lights on the little Fiesta didn’t quite cut the mustard.
I leapt out the car like a salmon, keen to get the cones laid out behind our car and give us some protection. I strode along the side of the road with a sense of purpose and urgency, facing the oncoming traffic and ready to launch myself sideways onto the verge at the first sign of a dozy motorist getting a speed wobble in my direction. I counted the number of strides in my head, placing the cones at the correct distance apart. I then did the backwards walk and pushed each consecutive cone further out in to the road to ease the traffic away from the scene. (When I say “backwards walk”, I mean exactly that – walking backwards. I never take my eyes off the oncoming traffic. It might look silly but it keeps me alive). I repeated the white line tightrope walk along the edge of the carriageway to place flashing blue lights and POLICE SLOW signs, before returning to join my colleague who was dealing with the driver and arranging recovery. (NB: if a sign says SLOW, it is not a suggestion and we don’t put them out just for a giggle.)
On the way back, still watching the traffic like a hawk, an approaching car didn’t see the cones, lights and florescent yellow jackets until it was too late. The driver ploughed straight through the cones, and took out a flashing blue beacon light placed on the road, inches away from where I was trudging backwards. It exploded with an almighty bang, sending shards of blue and yellow plastic in every direction. The car just managed to skid to a stop, and narrowly avoided ploughing into the back of our patrol car. My heart leapt into my mouth, my blood ran cold, and my bowels relaxed for a second, as I realised how close she had come to removing my legs sending me flying into the air with her deadly purple Corsa.
If you ask my any of my colleagues, they will tell you that I am normally quite calm, patient, controlled and unflappable. I have to admit that I lost my cool on this occasion. I won’t repeat what I bellowed at the wide-eyed girl in the drivers’ seat. Needless to say, I think she was more scared than I was by the time I had finished. Her only response was “I’M SORRY, I DIDN’T SEE YOU”. Not much of a consolation to my family if I don’t make it home.
I like my life. I’d like to keep it for a few more years, see my children grow up, maybe take up golf, and get my bus pass.
If you are driving and you see blue lights, lots of cones, signs, and police in shiny yellow jackets SLOW DOWN! In the comfort of your Audi, you may feel invincible, and 70mph might seem fairly slow. When I am walking towards you with nothing to protect me from your big hunk of metal, apart from three layers of cheap police uniform, 70mph feels pretty damn fast and scary!
And another thing – when you see those blue flashing lights, don’t rubber-neck. They are only blue lights. If you need to satisfy some morbid obsession with someone else’s misery, go home and watch Eastenders. If the accident is that bad enough, the road will be closed anyway, so you’ll never get to see anything. I won’t labour this point as there have been some excellent blogs recently by @nathanconstable and @TheCustodySgt about this:
Nathan Constable’s blog
The Custody Sgt’s blog
I’m not being melodramatic about this issue. Here is an example of where a routine incident on motorway ended tragically for one of my colleagues:
PC Goodlad liked on the motorway
Thanks for reading. Take care and be safe.