We’ve been reporting on how Houston highways are some of the most dangerous in the nation. With that in mind, what happens if your car suddenly has a flat or runs out of gas on a busy toll road?
If you find yourself in this scary situation on one of Harris County’s toll roads, just take a deep breath and look in your rearview mirror.
You just might see Jarett Pasley, a supervisor with the Harris County Toll Road Authority’s Incident Response Team. His main job is to get breakdowns off the road.
Pasley and his team patrol over 130 miles of the HCTRA tollway system. It’s part of a free service HCTRA started 17 years ago to help stranded drivers and to keep the lanes clear.
Team members do things like change tires and jump dead batteries. If they can’t get your car started, they’ll give you a free tow to a safe spot off the toll road.
To see the system in action, we met Pasley at the Central Toll Plaza on the Sam Houston Parkway. We climbed into his specially-marked truck and hit the main lanes.
With cars and trucks whizzing by at top speed, Pasley told us that a freeway breakdown is a terrifying experience for many drivers. He remembers when he was called to help a family of five who got a flat in the Katy Freeway Managed Lanes, after a woman made a panicked and tearful call to 911.
“Once I pulled behind her and changed her flat, she was very, very appreciative,” said Pasley. “She hugged me, like, ten times. Because she was so grateful that she had a sense of safety behind her.”
Pasley also knows first-hand just how dangerous it can be if you’re standing unprotected beside the road. He had his own frightening experience when he was changing a tire on the Sam Houston Tollway a couple of years ago.
“I was going to pick up my last piece of equipment to put back in my truck and drive off when a trailer tire came off a vehicle that was in the far left lane,” Pasley recounted.
That loose tire made it all the way across four lanes of traffic, to the exact spot where Pasley was standing. Before he knew it, he was hit.
“I lost my radio. I had no form of communication out there. I was up against the wall,” said Pasley. “And the guy I was helping was still there but he actually drove off so I was out there by myself for a while.”
Pasley was finally able to struggle back to his truck to call for help.
“And I found out later that day that I had broken two bones in my back and fractured my pelvis,” added Pasley.
Pasley chalks it up to a freak accident. But he says it illustrates just how vigilant drivers need to be on any road in Houston.
“If you’re just sitting here on the phone not paying attention to anything around you and it just so happens a patron is not paying attention and they didn’t see you over there and they drift over there, anything can happen,” Pasley warned. “I always preach safety, safety, safety.”
Meanwhile Pasley says he’ll keep doing his part by helping to get stranded drivers back on the road as quickly as possible.