Help sought from cars with phones

March 18, 1993|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer

The call is going out to Maryland's car telephone users to report disabled vehicles and other traffic problems on a new toll-free cellular phone number.

Beginning today, signs will be posted along Interstates 95 and 895 (the Harbor Tunnel Thruway) directing motorists to dial #77 if they see cars broken down along the highways.

If successful, the program may soon be expanded to include other highways.

The signs read: "Help Yourself. Help Others! Report Disabled Vehicles, Call #77."

Callers will be connected to the 24-hour state police communications center in Pikesville where an officer will ask them to describe traffic problems and provide locations.

Motorists may also be questioned about how traffic is being affected and the make, color and license plate numbers of vehicles involved.

"We want to take care of disabled vehicles before they create larger incidents," said Dennis R. Atkins of the State Highway Administration's Office of Traffic and Safety.

"The purpose is to call in for a variety of nonemergency police assistance like accidents or hazards in the road, drunk drivers, or disabled vehicles."

Mr. Atkins said the program will not cost callers or taxpayers any money. The service is being provided free of charge by Cellular One and Bell Atlantic Mobile.

State officials are hoping that swifter responses to breakdowns could prevent traffic tie-ups on the busy roads. Disabled vehicles are sometimes the cause of serious accidents.

The state experimented with using the toll-free number from July 1991 to January of this year. The number was publicized in cellular phone newsletters, but not on highway signs. During the test period, state police received 936 reports. They included 132 suspected drunken drivers, 100 roadway hazards, 281 disabled vehicles, 185 accidents and 226 traffic violations.

The toll-free number was partly inspired by an 11-year-old state police program that encourages motorists to report drunken drivers.

Additional signs instructing motorists to call the toll-free number will soon be erected along the two interstates. The signs will read: "Fender Bender -- Please Move Vehicles From Travel Lanes -- Police Assistance Call #77."

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