The trusty, yet reliable motorist aid call box. You see them on Interstate 275 as well as Interstate 75 and Florida's Turnpike.
These motorist aid devices that dot the Florida interstate landscape have been around for years. If you broke down on, let's say Interstate 275 between Interstate 75 and Bearss Avenue (Exit 53) in Tampa or Interstate 75 and US 19 (Exit 5) in Bradenton, all you did was pull up to the nearest call box, pull the handle down, press the appropriate button for the service you needed such as police, medical or a tow truck, return to your car and safely wait for assistance.
I was surprised to find out that the Florida DOT is in the works of getting rid of the motorist aid call boxes on Florida's interstate highways come January 2014, according to this 10 News (WTSP-TV, the CBS affiliate here in St. Petersburg) article by reporter Kathryn Bursch. In fact, the photo you see above was used in the article as well as the story that aired on 10 News! (By the way, I was surprised when I got the phone call from Kathryn asking me for permission to use the above photo for the story she was developing about the Florida DOT getting rid of the call boxes - I thought the call boxes would stay in addition to the other motorist aid services offered to motorists on Florida's interstates - it was a great article by the way).
What I really think the Florida DOT is doing is a big mistake. Why?
Realize that we live in an era of cell phones, BlackBerries and OnStar. (Believe me, OnStar is the best communication item to have in your car since the invention of the automobile - if you need help such as a flat tire or you are involved in an accident, just press the OnStar emergency button and a representative is right there). Things have changed since the emergency call boxes were installed on Florida's interstate highways by the Florida DOT many years ago, not to mention the many variable message signage, cameras and roving patrols by Florida DOT Road Rangers in several Florida areas.
However, there is a drawback to not having call boxes on Florida's interstate highways:
1. You got a cell phone or OnStar? Great! Now what if you are in an area where there is no cellular coverage? Your phone won't work and you want to be sure that you have access to help if needed.
2. You are driving a car that does not have OnStar, and your cell phone battery went out on you. If you are on a long, yet exit-less stretch of interstate highway such as the section of Interstate 75 in South Florida from Exit 101 to Exit 49 also known as the Alligator Alley, you better count on the nearest call box to come to your aid in case of an emergency.
There is an exit between Exits 101 and 49 on Interstate 75, and that's Exit 82, FL 29. Unfortunately, there are no motorist services located at FL 29 - now there is a meaning to the black lettering on yellow background signs on southbound Interstate 75 before Exit 101 in Naples that tell you to check your fuel gauge, no services for the next 50 miles.
In short, motorist aid call boxes are like an insurance policy for your trip. Unfortunately, the Florida DOT wants to take away this motorist safety aid in the name of saving money down the road. However, there is no monetary savings realized if motorists can't have an opportunity to access any aid at the first opportunity.
However, there is one place where the motorist aid call boxes will remain: The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, as these call boxes are actual phones that serve a dual purpose, not only for motorist aid but for crisis intervention as these phones connect directly to The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay and are staffed 24/7/365 by trained counselors.
On a side note, thinking about pulling over onto the shoulder of the Sunshine Skyway's main span to get that great picturesque view of St. Petersburg or the Gulf of Mexico? Don't! Cameras monitored by the Florida Highway Patrol monitor both northbound and southbound traffic and any stopping on the shoulder will result in a Florida Highway Patrol trooper being sent out to investigate. Instead, the rest areas on either end of the Sunshine Skyway main span provide great photo opportunities.
I think the Florida DOT is making a mistake by removing the motorist aid call boxes. The motorist aid call boxes are peace of mind for motorists, especially motorists who do not even have a cell phone to begin with.