Pennsylvania House endorses change to 'call box' requirement

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 10/7/2015

An effort at the Pennsylvania statehouse that could end the use of “call boxes” along the turnpike is moving ahead.

The House voted unanimously to advance a bill that is intended to save the state money by changing requirements for emergency telephones along the 360-mile roadway that stretches across the state. HB1335 now moves to the Senate.

Specifically, the bill would remove the requirement that the Turnpike Commission must provide for the installation and maintenance of emergency telephones every two miles on both sides of the highway.

The call boxes permit users to push one of four buttons to alert emergency services to the location of an incident.

Rep. John Lawrence, R-Franklin, wrote in a memo to lawmakers that when the service was unveiled in the early 1990s it “was a novel addition that allowed folks in need of a tow truck or police presence to summon help.”

However, Lawrence said the popularity of cellphones more than one-quarter century later makes the service unnecessary. He pointed out that the call boxes were used 18,571 times in 2000 but usage fell to 1,717 in 2012. The numbers have continued to decline each year since.

Lawrence said the state expense to keep the program up and running equates to about $166 per call – or $200,000 annually based on 2014 statistics.

HB1335 would not mandate that the program end, but it would allow the Turnpike Commission to move forward with call box removal at their discretion.

The bill awaits consideration in the Senate Transportation Committee.

A separate bill halfway through the General Assembly would repeal the elimination of vehicle registration stickers.

Starting Dec. 31, 2016, the state is set to stop requiring registration stickers to be displayed on vehicles.

Rep. Dom Costa, D-Allegheny, has said there will be consequences for doing away with the program. He points out that police departments throughout the state rely on registration stickers to quickly identify unregistered vehicles.

“While the elimination of registration stickers has the potential to reduce administration costs for PennDOT, without the sticker visible on the plate, it will now require law enforcement officers to observe a traffic violation and initiate a traffic stop of the vehicle,” Costa wrote in a memo to lawmakers.

He said the other option is to require agencies to come up with funding to pay for computer/police radio systems to determine whether a plate is good or not.

Costa’s bill, HB1154, awaits further consideration in the Senate. House lawmakers already approved it on a 155-36 vote.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Pennsylvania, click here.

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