The PA Turnpike Commission (PTC) next week will begin mothballing and removing the bright yellow emergency call boxes that are positioned at one-mile intervals along the shoulder of the 550-mille toll-road system.
PTC maintenance crews will start to pull out the boxes on Sept. 11, and they expect to complete the task by Sept. 29. During the three-week process, any call box still in place will remain functional. Because of the change, Turnpike officials are reminding travelers to dial *11 on a mobile phone to report an accident or other emergency occurring on the PA Turnpike system.
The boxes, which have been icons along the PA Turnpike since 1988, have become obsolete as cellphone and smartphone use has surged. Today, most Americans (95 percent) own a cellphone of some kind, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. Moreover, 77 percent of Americans now own smartphones.
“A majority of the emergency calls we receive at our Traffic Operations Center in Highspire come in via mobile phone, while call box counts continue to come in at record lows,” said PA Turnpike Chief Operating Officer Craig Shuey. “A decade ago, we saw call box activations of almost 6,000, while total usage came in under 800 last year. In the first eight months of 2017, we’ve seen around 400 activations.”
Besides plummeting use, Shuey said another reason the commission is removing call boxes is the increased risks pedestrians face today due to factors including record traffic volumes, higher allowable speed limits on state highways and the prevalence of driver distraction.
“We have all witnessed chilling instances involving people standing or walking along the highway mere feet from cars and trucks zipping past at 70 miles per hour,” Shuey said. “Pedestrians pose a major highway safety hazard; drivers need to recognize that, after a breakdown or fender bender, being buckled up inside a disabled or stopped vehicle is usually a much safer choice.”
Shuey reminded motorists that it’s imperative to maintain situational awareness regarding your position and direction of travel so you can accurately report your location to dispatchers if necessary.
“The Turnpike has invested in a system-wide installation of milepost markings, usually at the tenth of a mile, and motorist in need of assistance should use them to effectively identify their location on the roadway,” he said. “In addition to this, knowing your direction of travel can significantly reduce the time for assistance to arrive at your location.”