JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A number of wrecks recently, many fatal, are a reminder that Jacksonville highways can be dangerous places.
But there are groups working to cut down on the crashes and make the roads safer. The First Coast Road Rangers, funded by the Florida Department of Transportation, are one of those groups.
They're another form of first responders, patrolling highways and not only responding to crashes, but working to prevent them. The Road Rangers are often the first ones there when things go wrong on the interstate.
News4Jax's Vic Micolucci loaded into the Road Rangers' truck Friday and headed toward Interstate 295, the expressway that loops around the River City.
"We stay pretty busy. It's nonstop," Road Rangers manager Cody Parham said. "We help out a lot of people out here. I really enjoy that. People who are not in the best situation out here, sometimes they're broken down or their tires are flat."
There are 16 Road Rangers on duty in Duval County -- eight in the morning, eight in the evening. They patrol the highways in the area to make sure people are safe.
They traveled over the Buckman Bridge several times Friday. It was quiet and there weren't any wrecks. But the fatal crash Wednesday that claimed the life of a 48-year-old man after his pickup plunged into the water remains at the forefront of many drivers' minds.
Parham said the Road Rangers were there that morning, and he has responded to incidents on the bridge hundreds of times. There have been some tragedies, but overall, "We do have incidents out there, but you have incidents everywhere. And I wouldn't pinpoint the Buckman Bridge as a danger zone, per se."
The Road Rangers stopped Friday for a lot of stranded drivers along the way -- none on the bridge, but a few nearby. One truck broke down and one man's camper lost a tire.
"It's awesome. You see them on 295, of course where we are, I-10, whatever," stranded driver Mark Ellison said. "If you do have a problem, call them and they will be out there for assistance, free of charge."
The job comes with its fair share of dangers. Weeks ago, a Road Ranger was hit by a car on the Fuller Warren Bridge.
"He is going to be OK, going to make a full recovery," Parham said.
He said the new Move Over Law that recently went into effect is helping. Until recently, it only required drivers to get over for police and rescue stopped on the side of the road. Now it includes resources like the rangers, too.
But not everyone is following the rules. So the Road Rangers ask people to be careful, look out for them and move over or at least slow down. It'll make their jobs of helping drivers a lot safer.
If you are on the highway and need their help, dial *FHP on your cellphone.
The following are statistics for FDOT fiscal year 2014:
- Events with Road Rangers Response: 20,435
- Road Ranger Activities Performed: 54,018
- Road Ranger Events on Buckman Southbound: 691
- Road Ranger Events on Buckman Northbound: 706
- Road Ranger Events on Fuller Warren Southbound: 464
- Road Ranger Events on Fuller Warren Northbound: 671
- Road Ranger Events on Dames Point Southbound: 329
- Road Ranger Events on Dames Point Northbound: 361
- Road Ranger Events on JTB ICW Eastbound: 75
- Road Ranger Events on JTB ICW Westbound: 59
- Road Ranger Events on 95/ Trout River Southbound: 57
- Road Ranger Events on 95/ Trout River Northbound: 85
- Crash Events on Buckman Southbound: 72
- Crash Events on Buckman Northbound: 105
- Crash Events on Fuller Warren Southbound: 161
- Crash Events on Fuller Warren Northbound: 282
- Crash Events on Dames Point Southbound: 42
- Crash Events on Dames Point Northbound: 80
- Crash Events on JTB ICW Eastbound: 4
- Crash Events on JTB ICW Westbound: 7
- Crash Events on 95/ Trout River Southbound: 7
- Crash Events on 95/ Trout River Northbound: 8
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