Phones will enable drivers stranded in
desert to get help
By Omar Sofradzija
Las Vegas Review-Journal
The harsh desert southwest of Las Vegas isn't a place where
you'd want your car to break down, but if it does you'll soon
have an extra way to call for help.
Highway engineers are close to activating a call box network
along Interstate 15 between St. Rose Parkway and the California
state line that will provide an emergency link between stranded
drivers and Nevada Highway Patrol dispatchers.
The network of 60 phones could be working as soon as next
Monday or Tuesday, pending final testing, officials said.
It parallels a similar network that has existed for years
along I-15 in California.
"If your car breaks down, you go to the box and notify
the Highway Patrol if you need assistance," Nevada Department
of Transportation spokesman Bob McKenzie said. "As soon
as you activate it, you're right in the dispatch center."
The solar-powered cellular-type phones are connected to dispatchers
when one of four buttons are pushed: one requesting emergency
police or medical attention; another asking for mechanical
help; a third reporting an empty gas tank or flat tire; and
a fourth indicating the caller is hearing-impaired, McKenzie
Phones will be grouped in pairs, with one on each side of
the highway. Those pairs will be spaced about one mile apart
from each other, according to McKenzie.
"These call boxes have always worked well for California.
It'll assist us and especially the motorist," said Highway
Patrol trooper Angie Wolff. "Sometimes, they're stuck
out in the desert for hours. This way, they know within a
short walking distance they can get help."
Although the proliferation of cell phones has diminished
the need for call boxes, authorities said the boxes are still
considered a valuable backup.
"Some areas are dead areas where (most) cell phones
don't work between (the) state line and the valley,"
Wolff said. "A lot of older people don't have cell phones."
Police will be notified electronically if a call box door
is opened, and the boxes will automatically check in with
a central computer every 24 hours to assure the phones are
in working order.
Most of the call boxes have been installed. The boxes and
related signs have been covered in plastic bags. That's the
way the boxes and signs will stay until the phones are ready
The impetus for the call box program was a 2001 Assembly
bill that set aside $500,000 for the plan and called on the
Transportation Department to place phones along I-15 between
Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
The department historically had ignored the concept
citing higher priorities and even testified against