Pennsylvania nears change to 'call box' requirement

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Monday, November 16, 2015

An effort at the Pennsylvania statehouse to phase out the use of “call boxes” along the turnpike is nearing passage.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted 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.

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 contact police, or alert emergency services to the location of a fire, medical emergency or vehicle breakdown.

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 two decades 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.

His bill 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, HB1335, awaits further consideration on the Senate floor. If approved there, it would move to the governor’s desk. House lawmakers already approved the bill by unanimous consent.

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