Photo By: Nepenthes via Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0
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For Desert Driving, Freeway Service Patrol Clears the Way

Since 1998, the sight of a Freeway Service Patrol (FSP) van has brought a feeling of relief—for commuters, errand-runners and tourists alike.

FSP vans cover territory between Henderson, Las Vegas and North Las Vegas during peak traffic hours to minimize traffic jams and to clear minor roadblocks from the freeway. On weekdays and weekends, trained drivers help stranded motorists get back up to freeway speed.

Stopped vehicles are the No. 1 cause of delay, expense and even danger on Vegas freeways, according to Juan Hernandez. As a Senior Project Manager at the Nevada Department of Transportation, Hernandez oversees the contractor that provides FSP services in Las Vegas and Reno.

The U.S. Department of Transportation adds its own statistics to the mix: According to its service patrol handbook, about 25 percent of the total congestion on roads is due to highway incidents. On a three-lane stretch of pavement, one blocked lane out of three will reduce traffic flow by 50 percent; two blocked lanes will reduce it by 80 percent.

We’re seeing intermittent triple-digit weather again—dry, hot and windy—and vehicles aren’t immune to the effects of this desert climate.

“This time of year, we start seeing a lot more vehicle fires and tire damage,” says Trooper Loy Hixson, Public Information Officer for the Nevada Highway Patrol Southern Command.

NHP employee Sara Toms said she appreciates the cooperation between her department and the service patrol. Toms, a Southern Command Dispatch Manager, said FSP personnel stay with disabled vehicles, which leaves highway patrol troopers free to spend more time on law enforcement and less time on traffic control.

The Nevada DOT says that FSP is not available on-call; however, anyone can dial *NHP (*647) to report stranded or disabled motorists, traffic crashes or any suspicious roadside incidents.

Using customized vans, FSP drivers work to keep lanes clear by moving disabled vehicles from travel lanes; making minor repairs such as fixing a flat tire; rehydrating motorized vehicles and the people who drive them; and supplying items for traffic control—directional arrow lights, flares and traffic cones—in the event of an emergency.

Stranded motorists regularly need these items. Although today’s vehicles are much more reliable than those in the past, they still break down, says Jack Gillis. He’s the Director of Public Affairs at the Consumer Federation of America, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C.

“Getting legitimate, fast help for highway breakdowns can not only be life-saving, but, given the sophistication of today’s vehicles, the best way to get back on the road,” says Gillis.

In that spirit, state-administered FSP programs operate in Vegas, and in metro areas throughout the U.S.—at no cost to the assisted motorist.

That’s where federal funding enters the picture. According to the USDOT, the federal government provides about 80 percent of the funding for freeway service patrols in most states. But in Nevada, the federal government pays for 100 percent, because Nevada (along with 10 other states) contains at least 3 percent of the total public land in the U.S., according to a transportation planning guidebook by the USDOT.

Here at the local level, Hixson expresses gratitude for FSP. He also reminds motorists that certain tasks can help prevent roadside delays and emergencies.

“Remember to do a monthly safety check,” says Hixson. “Check the air pressure in your tires, the condition of the hoses in your engine, and the level of fluids in your car. Help us to help you.”

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