Behind the Wheel with Highway Patrol

Senior Sergeant Ben Macfarlane is attached to the Highway Patrol Command. Ben, who has had experience on both two and four wheels, recently shared some insights into the day to day operations of the Command.

How long have you been in the NSW Police Force and what led you to join?
Over 24 years, I started at the NSW Police Academy in October 1989 and graduated in 1990.

There’s probably 2 main reasons why I felt compelled to join the Force. The first goes back to the 1980’s when as a teenager I was living with my family in Yeppoon, Queensland. Every afternoon I would ride my trail bike to the bottom of our property and wait for Dad. However one afternoon in late September 1984 he didn’t arrive. We found out shortly afterwards Dad had been knocked off his motorbike and killed by a drunk driver on his way home from work. Of course this had a big impact on my life at 14 years of age, in particular the injustice.

The second significant influence occurred a couple of years later. I remember in 1986 watching my older cousin, retired Senior Sergeant Glen Macfarlane, fastidiously polishing his boots and carefully attending to every detail of his uniform. I was not only impressed with the effort Glen went to but I also took notice of how proud he was to be a Police Officer.

Both experiences stayed with me and influenced me to be a good Officer and an honest servant to the community of New South Wales.

What was it that attracted you to the Highway Patrol?
There are actually two reasons, albeit quite different in nature! The first is that I have always been interested in all aspects of road safety and therefore the Highway Patrol was a good fit. The second reason relates to lets say an ‘impressionable’ moment in the early 90’s. I was performing General Duties at Balmain Police Station when Officers from the Leichhardt Highway Patrol turned up in a brand new green unmarked Holden V8 Commodore (complete with roof racks and mag wheels which was a big deal back then). Suddenly the car with all its power took off on a pursuit; it was the most impressive police car I had ever seen! I was hooked and finally made it into the Highway Patrol in 1993.

How has the Highway Patrol evolved over the years?
Like many areas of policing Highway Patrol has developed, always looking at ways to improve. There is now more a reliance on tasking staff to particular areas of need. In earlier times Officers patrolled more at will (within defined geographical boundaries). Whilst this approach still produced good results, the Highway Patrol is now more focussed and aware of road trauma casualty factors and the need for taskings. Becoming our own Command has allowed Highway Patrol staff to focus on core business with defined outcomes.

When on duty, what are the benefits of being on a bike compared to a car, and vice-versa?
Apart from advantages with accessibility, on a bike you get to experience the wonderful ‘outdoors’. However it has a few downsides including riding in wet conditions and visibility issues with blind spots. Also, riding a bike can be physically tiring after a long day, but as they say a bad day on a bike beats a good day in the office! I’ve had the luxury of a car for the last 18 months but I do miss riding a bike. Being in a car has obvious benefits (heater, aircon, storage etc) and there’s a higher level of protection.

A question for the biking enthusiasts – how many different models of motorcycles have you experienced and was there one that stood out?
I was trained as a solo cyclist in 2001 and started on a BMW K1100 series. Other bikes followed including a Honda ST1100, BMW R1150 and BMW R1200. I’ve also ridden trial bikes including a Honda Goldwing, Honda ST 1300, Kawasaki GTR 1400, and even a Harley Davidson Electra Glide! My favourite was probably the BMW K1100; it was comfortable, reliable and fast.

Do you have any exciting or funny stories you could share?
All Police have stories, I wouldn’t say ‘exciting’ but there are quite a few nervous moments. On the lighter side, our drink driving offenders provide from time to time some very interesting moments!

How is technology deployed to assist with your day-to-day duties?
There are various forms of technology to make our jobs more efficient such as vehicle based radar, hand held LIDAR (radar device), alcoholiser (for breath testing) and in car video equipment. The Traffic Technology Section at Traffic and HWP Command (under the watchful eye of Inspector John Lipman) are always researching and trialling new equipment to ensure NSWPF have world class equipment and training in this type of technology.

Do you think emerging technologies will change the way Highway Patrol operates?
Emerging technologies have definitely had an effect on Highway Patrol activities. For example, the introduction of Automatic Number Plate Recognition units have had a positive impact by increasing the number of unregistered vehicle detections, which is obviously a good thing as we can remove unauthorised vehicles (and often unauthorised drivers) from the road network.

Improved speed detection technology has also reduced the requirement for Police to enter on the roadway to stop vehicles, which improves safety for our people.

We believe you are involved in the annual ‘Wall to Wall Remembrance Ride’ from Sydney to Canberra which has become an important event on the Police Calendar.
The Wall to Wall Ride for Remembrance commenced in 2010 and was born from a meeting between Assistant Commissioner Mick Corboy (NSWPF) and Inspector Brian Rix (VICPOL, retired) after hearing about the `Ride for the Fallen’ in Texas, USA.

he focus is on remembering fallen Officers and their families, raising funds for Police Legacies and safe, lawful motorcycling. There are far too many people involved to acknowledge individually but the event receives considerable support from serving and retired Police and Emergency Services personnel.

I’m glad I was lucky enough to be included on the Wall to Wall Committee and whilst there are some high ranking Police Officers on the Committee, we have become firm friends with a shared love of motorcycling. I’m very proud to lead the ride and prepare the Commissioner’s (and visiting Commissioner’s) cycles. That’s a big responsibility but I always have a big proud grin on my face when we leave the Domain on route to Canberra. The ride has evolved with registrations increasing every year. We now have a number of satellite rides commencing within regional NSW and interstate, and last year a number of Police from the USA attended to represent their members on our ride.

How does Highway Patrol manage traffic during the Wall to Wall event?
Traffic management during the Ride is coordinated by myself and Inspector Steve Blair (attached to Traffic and Highway Patrol Command, Huntingwood).

As the Ride covers a wide geographical area, we are also in partnership with a multitude of agencies such as the Transport Management Centre at Eveleigh, Royal Botanic Gardens Trust and the Sydney Harbour Bridge Authority. In addition, local Highway Patrol resources from various Police Metropolitan Regions and the Traffic Support Group/VIP Cycle Unit also provide assistance. So you can see it’s a real collective effort to get a large group of motorcycles from Sydney to Canberra as safely as possible.

Our overall aim is for the Ride to be managed rather than escorted. This strategy minimises the impact on motorists whilst still providing a high level of safety. There are a number of former and serving Police Officers participating in the ride who have an excellent understanding of riding safely in a group setting.