John Gerhards was recently headed home when he spotted another vehicle in trouble. “I was on 9-1-1 before he hit the gravel,” he recalled. Because he knew exactly what information to give the dispatcher -- and because the dispatchers know him -- police and emergency crews were there in five minutes.
Gerhards, who drives for Fred Meyer Distribution, is one of approximately 20 Oregon truckers participating in Highway Watch, a national volunteer organization of truck drivers who are specially trained to spot problems on the highways and report them to the proper authorities.
“The goal of Highway Watch is to save lives by reducing response time to accidents and other safety hazards,” said Mike Moises, president of the Oregon Trucking Assn., a program sponsor.
According to government funded safety research, about half of the nation’s 41,000 traffic deaths occur before the victim can reach medical care facilities. In urban fatal crashes it takes an average 35 minutes for victims to reach hospitals. In rural areas, the average is 53 minutes. Highway Watch drivers hope to reduce that response time by providing rapid and reliable information.
The program, funded by local trucking companies and a grant from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, is now active in six states: Colorado, Florida, Pennsylvania (PIKE Watch), Minnesota, Virginia and, most recently, Oregon.
In Oregon, a one-day course conducted by the State Police and Oregon 9-1-1 teaches drivers to identify medical emergencies, road rage, impaired drivers, and other potential problems. They also learn how to accurately report those and other incidents such as traffic accidents, severe weather conditions, and stranded motorists.
When they spot a problem they either call 9-1-1 or a special line into the State Police’s dispatch center. They identify themselves as Highway Watch drivers, which allows dispatchers to bypass the screening required of many “emergency” calls. “I don’t even have to give them my cell phone number, they’ve got that on the computer,” Gerhards noted. “It really cuts down the response time.”
The Oregon Trucking Assn. (www.ortrucking.org
) is now taking applications and hopes to train another 50 drivers in September.