Budget Woes Force New Jersey to Ponder Ending Free Roadside Assistance

Since 1994, New Jersey has offered a free roadside assistance program that gives aid to motorists dealing with vehicle-related frustrations like dead batteries, flat tires or an empty gas tank. The state's Emergency Service Patrol (ESP) began not only as a public service, but also to prevent the congestion and safety concerns that usually result from cars on the side of the road.

The ESP program has aided approximately 114,000 motorists on more than 400 miles of high-traffic New Jersey roadways since its inception. But with government belts tightening, legislators are wondering whether the program's $12 Million budget could be put to better use somewhere else. Transportation Commissioner Jim Simpson feels that the money could be better spent on road maintenance.

Some members of the New Jersey Privatization Task Force feel that the program is a luxury, and a duplicative one at that because many drivers already receive free services similar to those provided by the program through membership in an automobile club like AAA or as part of their auto insurance package. They believe it would be a better use of state and personal resources to have the state contract with a private company to provide the same services as the ESP, but at a fee to the motorist receiving the assistance.

Those who work for the ESP program, as well as those who have benefitted from it in the past, object to the dismantling of the program. Michael Collins, one of the 90 drivers currently employed by the ESP, sees his role as one of lifesaver. In his view, the ESP provides invaluable aid to motorists, particularly in times of snow and ice. When weather conditions are bad, and police are already overwhelmed by accidents and injuries, ESP personnel can arrive on the scene to help stranded motorists who might have otherwise waited hours for law enforcement assistance. Furthermore, some argue that elimination of the program could tax the already strained resources of state and local police forces.

Many accidents are caused by distracted drivers who collide with disabled vehicles. If your vehicle becomes disabled, call for assistance and remain in the vehicle. You are much more likely to be severely injured if struck as a pedestrian on the shoulder of the road than you would be if you remained in your vehicle.