Roadside Assistance Industry Increases Highway Safety

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We often do not think very much about the industries that serve us. The roadside service industry is no different than any other critical industry that serve us on our highways. They are subject to regulation, demand a high level of ethics and professionalism from their industry members, and just like the automobile industry regularly holds expos, so does the roadside service industry. Whether you call them wreckers or tow trucks, committed roadside service operators pride themselves on excellent service expediently rendered.
Bet you didn’t consider the safety implications were the industry not as efficient as it is. I hadn’t either,but the mayor of Houston recognizes it.

Houston, Texas – The number of freeway crashes dropped by 18 percent last year compared with 2004, according to a published report. Mayor Bill White credits the Safe Clear mandatory towing program, which began in January of 2005.

• 2004: 14,548

• 2005: 13,147

• 2006: 11,994

The figures, released under the Texas Public Information Act, show there were 2,500 fewer crashes on 13 freeway segments in Houston from 2004 to 2006.

White said that the $3 million towing program, launched in January 2005, has reduced crashes by quickly removing disabled vehicles that can lead to secondary wrecks. He said the figures vindicate the program, which has drawn political heat in the past and is still being attacked in federal court.

But a local towing group suing the city over Safe Clear expressed skepticism about the figures, as it did a year ago when White touted 2005 crash statistics as evidence Safe Clear was working. The Houston and Metropolitan Transit Authority police departments compiled the crash numbers.

Suzanne Poole, president of the Houston Professional Towing Association, which filed two federal lawsuits challenging the program, said she believes collisions are underreported.

White said the figures were accurate and based on the same criteria as statistics for the years prior to the program.

Poole also discounted the connection between a decrease in wrecks and Safe Clear, saying other factors such as weather and construction could skew the numbers.

But Tim Lomax, a research engineer with Texas A&M University’s transportation institute, said a statistical study he’s compiling would show a “large chunk” of the reduction can be attributed to the program. He said the program’s emphasis on getting vehicles off roadways quickly plays a role, because it reduces wrecks caused by freeway obstructions and rubbernecking motorists.

Lomax said he plans to cite the program as a model this month when he testifies before a U.S. House subcommittee with jurisdiction over federal transportation funding.

The program has been controversial since its inception. It was revised in the early days after complaints that it put an unfair burden on poor motorists, and the city agreed to pay for short tows. Motorists still pay for longer tows to repair facilities or other locations.

A federal judge also invalidated two key provisions in the policy last fall, prompting further revisions. A case brought by Poole’s group attacking those changes continues.


So the next time you are stranded on the side of the road, consider the jeopardy you’d be in were it not for the state of excellence the roadside service industry has achieved.

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