Traffic police maintain order and safety on the roads.

Traffic police provide a valuable service to our society by regulating the country's roads and enforcing the state and federal driving laws. Like all law enforcement jobs, traffic police have the ability to cite, detain and arrest citizens who are suspected of breaking the law.


As long as the roads have been populated by scores of moving vehicles, there has been a need for states to regulate and control this movement. As early as the mid-1800s in Victorian England, traffic police monitored the roads filled with horse-drawn buggies. They held gas-powered lamps with color filters to alert drivers; the ubiquitous green meaning go and red meaning stop was begun here. Traffic enforcement in the U.S. was first carried out on large scale in Detroit in 1916, where officials sat in large towers above the streets operating the colorized lamps to control drivers. With the development of a transcontinental highway system in the 1950s under the Eisenhower administration, the need for mass control over this network led to the prominence of state highway patrols (although many existed prior to interstate highway development)


Even though the job title mentions only traffic, there many more duties that traffic enforcement officers carry out. On a fundamental level, traffic police are tasked with enforcing the state rules of the road, such as speed regulation, safe driving habits, license inspection and vehicle registration. However, they can also handle accident investigation, vehicle theft and prevention, security detail of government and celebrity personnel and assistance in criminal investigations.


Like other types of police officers, a traffic policeman needs to attend an academy. Entrance to the academy often requires both an exam testing mental aptitude as well as physical readiness and an in-person interview. Academy training will include an thorough teaching of state laws, federal laws, as well as protocol. Some states focus on on-the-job training, while others keep it more classroom oriented.


The salaries of a traffic police officer varies from state to state, but they tend to, on average, get paid slightly less than a police officer. In 2008, the median salary for a traffic enforcement officer was $46,670, whereas for a patrol officer, it was $51,410. Like all law enforcement jobs, salaries will go up with more experience and higher ranking.

Appearance in Popular Culture

The Hollywood paradigm of the serious, no-nonsense traffic officer has been around for some time. It reached a notable peak in the late 1970s and early 80s with the popularity of the TV program CHiPs, which featured both the seriousness of the job as well as the lighter side of the officer's personalities. The ensuing popularity of the show lead to an increase in traffic police applicants and forever left a mark of the California Highway Patrol on the nation's memory. The California Highway Patrol today uses their notoriety to support public safety campaigns such as encouraging drivers to buckle up.