I had been told your life expectancy on the hard shoulder of a motorway is 11 minutes, so when we stopped to help a lorry driver who was stuck after a blowout I was wary about staying too long.

The Highways Agency makes a point about helping people stranded on the hard shoulder, telling them to put their hazard lights on, get out of the car and stay behind the barrier.

Despite this, traffic officers still witness the most death-defying stunts on the hard shoulder.

One patrol came across a couple who had decided to pull over and have a sleep, but instead of doing this in a service station car park, chose the motorway hard shoulder.

When you consider the statistic, they were lucky to be alive.

Luckily the lorry driver we were seeing had left his cab and was standing well away from the vehicle.

The tyre fitter had arrived to help the lorry driver, and the highways officers started what they call a rolling lane one closure'.

"It is better to close lane one and keep the traffic moving than for the tyre fitter to change a tyre and risk an accident which could close the motorway for hours," said Joanne Carroll, spokeswoman for the Highways Agency.

Before the lane was coned off, the control centre set overhead screens to warn drivers that lane one would be closed. The traffic officers then started putting cones out around the lorry.

At all times a traffic officer stayed further back to check traffic was moving into lanes two and three and away from us.

These lane closures are just one of the many jobs the Highways Agency does to ensure the motorway is kept running.

In the boot of their Range Rovers, traffic officers carry an array of equipment, from cones to dog catching devices - the agency is often chasing loose animals around the carriageway, and it's horses, cows and swans as well as dogs.

And if there is an accident it will be these traffic officers, usually supported by an incident support unit, who clear up the debris from the road.

A considerable number of cameras, 631 to be precise, beam images back to the regional control centre in Quinton, Birmingham, where 48 staff constantly monitor the West Midlands road network.

If someone breaks down and uses the orange emergency phones you see on the hard shoulder they will be patched through to the control room, where operatives can immediately train a camera on the car to check they are OK.

They answer 19,000 emergency phone calls from the roadside each year, and will call the motorists' breakdown company as well as telling the highway patrols about them.

And if you break down but have no idea where on the motorway you are, the Highways Agency has installed driver location signs at regular intervals along the hard shoulder.

These blue signs tell you which motorway you are on, which direction you are heading, and how many miles you are from the start of the motorway.

Miss Carroll said: "You would be amazed how many people do not even know which motorway they are on and where they are when they break down. It is not just us who recognise the signs - nearly every major breakdown organisation will recognise them too."

Engine failure and flat tyres are unavoidable, but many motorists get stuck on the hard shoulder because they have run out of fuel.

A recent Highways Agency campaign called Check your fuel levels' aimed to reduce the number of people stranded on the dangerous hard shoulder with empty tanks.

Sensors in the road also monitor the average traffic speed, if this falls below 50mph, signs will automatically be set further back along the motorway to warn motorists to slow down.

And if no traffic is moving over them, alarms will sound in the control centre to alert operatives who will immediately train a camera on the area to see what the problem is.

Working 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the Highways Agency's main aim is the keep Britain's motorists moving. It's good to know they're there if you need help.