SANDAG operates and maintains a system of 1,275 call boxes along urban and rural state highways. It forms a network of cellular telephones, designed to link travelers in need on the County's more than 280 miles of urban highways and 255 miles of rural state highways to call center staff 24 hours per day. For motorists in distress from automobile failure or other roadside emergencies, assistance is available from police, fire, ambulance, towing, and other service personnel, or even from a family member or friend. Motorists simply open the yellow call box, pick up the phone, and press the red "call" button. The telephone connects directly to a call center, where an operator ensures that the stranded motorist is connected with the appropriate roadside assistance service.
California Senate Bill 1199 (SB 1199), which authorized formation of county Service Authority for Freeway Emergencies (SAFEs), went into effect on January 1, 1986. San Diego County was among the first to respond to this legislation, forming California's first SAFE on January 31, 1986. A total of 17 SAFEs have been formed in California, serving 31 of 58 counties in the state. Together these authorities have installed more than 15,000 call boxes in California.
There are currently 1,275 call boxes in San Diego County, located throughout hundreds of miles of urban and rural state highways in the region. They are typically installed every half mile on both sides of urban highways and about every mile, on one side of the road, on rural state highways. SANDAG works closely with Caltrans to prepare site and installation plans for new call boxes, and with CHP on efficient response to call box calls.
Call boxes are self-contained telephones that combine cellular technology with microchip computer technology to provide several features:
Solar powered, cellular operation
Direct voice communication with CHP Dispatch Center
Automatic call box location to CHP dispatcher
Automatic maintenance chek-in and alarms
Tilt and anti-tampering alarms
99.97% reliability of system electronics
The operation of the call box system is made possible by a $1 annual fee on vehicle registrations in each participating county. The fee is collected by the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
“I was with my daughter on the freeway when I felt that I had a flat tire. I pulled over and called 5-1-1 because I had heard about it in an advertisement. I discovered that a nail was stuck in my tire and the tow truck towed my car. I really enjoyed this service and would use it again.”
-Motorist on Interstate 54
“I was driving on the 15 in the South Bay when a chunk of metal flew off another car and sliced my tire. I called my office and the receptionist in my office had heard about 5-1-1 on a television advertisement. I really liked this service. I was in the middle of nowhere and didn’t know what else to do.”
-Motorist on Interstate 15
“I was alone when my car broke down and saw the posted sign for the 5-1-1 so I decided to call it. I called from my vehicle and was connected very quickly and the operator was very kind and cooperative. I was glad the signs were posted because I didn’t know anyone else to call.”
-Motorist on Interstate 5 near Carmel Valley