Roadside call boxes going away

Transportation officials says number of calls has dropped dramatically


ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Nearly everyone has a cellphone nowadays and relies on them. But would you trust them if you were stuck on the side of the road?

You're going to have to pretty soon. The Florida Department of Transportation is removing all of its highway assistance call boxes, where people could dispatch police, rescue or tow trucks. All of the boxes will be gone by January.

Officials say the number of calls in recent years has dropped dramatically, and it'll save the state about $1 million a year.

ASAP Towing gets thousands of calls a month from people needing tow trucks, but very few start at the roadside call boxes. There were 2,752 of them across Florida so people on the side of highways like Interstates 95, 10 and 75 could call for help, pushing a button that sends police, rescue or a tow truck.

ASAP owner Vince Serrano said the boxes are old technology, and because they were only buttons and not phones, they caused more problems than they were worth.

"Many a times we respond to these call boxes and there's no one there," he said. "Sometimes there's prank calls, sometimes they've already fixed their situation."

Not all drivers feel the boxes should go.

"They should keep them for people who don't have a cellphone. Especially for seniors who drive, it'd give them peach of mind," Tom Martin said via social media.

"Keep them! Cellphones don't always work," Michelle Henry Garber wrote.

"What if someone's car dies and their cellphone battery is low? Or what if someone realizes they forgot their cellphone at the office?" Yvonne from Mandarin wrote.

Jim Withrow agrees with the FDOT, calling the boxes a "waste of money" and saying "junk them."

Serrano understands that phones might not work, but getting help nowadays isn't that hard.

"We have so many people traveling our highways that there's always going to be somebody that stops to assist," he said. "We can put the money better used toward the Florida Highway Patrol."

An FDOT spokeswoman said it will cost about $35,000 to take down all the call boxes in the northeast Florida area. She said that is a relatively low number compared to the amount of money the state will save.