What is the Highway Patrol?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 September 2019
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The highway patrol is a state law enforcement organization with a number of different duties, depending on the state in which it is located. As a general rule, the highway patrol of a state operates autonomously from regional law enforcement such as city police or sheriffs. Officers maintain public safety on state highways, assist other law enforcement agencies, and engage in educational campaigns which are designed to improve safety for all citizens.

Civilians often encounter the highway patrol in the context of a speeding ticket. However, a highway patrol officer's job goes much further than that. The highway patrol is expected to look out for dangerous traffic situations and issue citations when necessary, but officers also assist at the scenes of accidents, contribute to highway maintenance, enforce commercial driving laws, and investigate traffic accidents. The educational aspect of the highway patrol is also important, and in many states, highway patrol officers can be found interacting with the public in classrooms and at driving seminars.


While the primary goal of the highway patrol is to promote driving safety, the organization also cooperates with other law enforcement organizations. The highway patrol may assist with ongoing investigations, for example, or highway patrol officers may supplement security details at events. The highway patrol also allows police officers to train at its academy. Accident investigation is also an important part of the duties of the highway patrol, and officers may assist law enforcement in rural areas who often have limited accident investigation skills.

Working for the highway patrol can be a dangerous job. Civilians can help highway patrol officers by obeying posted speed limits and being aware of potential hazards. In many states, the highway patrol also asks drivers to report hazardous conditions, including those caused by another driver. The highway patrol often has a specific phone number to call for reporting drunk drivers, in the hopes of reducing drunk driving accidents.

If you are stopped by a highway patrol officer, it is probably because the officer is concerned about your driving. You may be putting yourself or other drivers at risk with an unsafe speed or an erratic driving pattern. If you are calm and respectful during a traffic stop, it is much more likely to go smoothly. To get off on the right foot, start by turning your engine off and placing your hands on the steering wheel when you are pulled over and refrain from challenging the officer in an aggressive way, even if you believe that you are in the right.

While it may be tempting to get your registration, license, and insurance registration out so that they are ready, the highway patrol officer may read your actions differently. You may be innocently opening your glove box for your insurance, but you could also be reaching for a weapon such as a gun or a knife. Wait until the officer asks you for these items before getting them, and move slowly, keeping your hands clearly visible. Comply politely with reasonable requests made by the officer, and try to remember that he or she is human as well.


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