Careers in Engineering - Traffic Engineering

Traffic engineers are a vital part of the United Kingdom's infrastructure, studying and managing the pressures put upon the country's transport system as our population and industrial sectors continue to expand. Careers in traffic engineering are demanding - and draw on a wide range of skills and expertise - but successful traffic engineers can expect to see their work directly and positively affecting the world around them.

What do traffic engineers do?

Broadly speaking, traffic engineers study the habits of road and motorway users and improve those transportation networks with the information they gather. A traffic engineer works to achieve the optimal traffic conditions for the areas to which they are assigned which, in practice, means achieving smooth-flowing, safe and well-maintained roads.  

The roles assigned to traffic engineers can be diverse - involving work in both the office and in the field. Specialities may include:

  • Road safety protocols, including traffic lights and signage
  • Working with maintenance personnel
  • Working with policy makers and political staff
  • Transport planning, including working on inner-city and town road networks
  • Working with behavioural scientists to analyse and predict driver behaviour

Depending on the nature of a traffic engineer's employment, their work environment and responsibilities can vary significantly. Traffic engineers employed to manage urban and inner city routes, for example, will engage most frequently with congestion issues, parking and public transport systems. Engineers working in rural or less populated areas, on the other hand, will likely be more concerned with environmental problems and road maintenance. Starting salaries for traffic engineers range from £20,000 to £30,000 but can rise as high as $60,000 in senior positions.

As modern notions of transport change, so too do the qualities required of a traffic engineer. More recently traffic engineering has expanded its remit to pedestrian and urban design concerns, such as foot-access and the quality of the environment.

Necessary skills

Since traffic engineers deal heavily in statistical and graphical analysis, numeracy and mathematical ability are very important to their work. Engineers must be perceptive and creative, able to recognize the symptoms of poor traffic conditions and isolate their causes. Many roles involve co-ordination with other local government or even national departments so an ability to negotiate and argue a position is a valuable trait.

Increasingly, traffic engineering jobs require the use of advanced computer modelling software. To demonstrate conclusions and recommendations, traffic engineers often use presentations and visual aids to communicate their research to colleagues, administrators and other members of the transport infrastructure.

Educational requirements

Most professional positions within this field require a university level qualification in a related field such as civil engineering or urban planning - but other degrees, including mathematics, science and statistics are also relevant. Since the field is constantly evolving as new technologies and methodologies are introduced, traffic engineers should aim to remain constantly appraised of industry developments via journals and other trade publications.

Traffic engineers work in a fast-paced and exciting landscape which is constantly changing to accommodate new research. Jobs can offer engineers a huge amount of exciting experiences - and, for those prepared to travel, can take place in some of the most exciting  environments in the world. 

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