Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) Service Authority for Freeways and
Expressways (SAFE) Web Site: www.mtc.ca.gov
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Pilot Program Launched
Roadside Call Boxes Made More Accessible for Motorists with Speech or Hearing Impairments
Reka Goode, MTC SAFE
Marjorie Blackwell, MTC SAFE
OAKLAND, Calif., Jan. 31, 2000 . . . Motorist-aid call boxes along some of the Bay
Area's most heavily traveled roadways have been outfitted with a device to make it easier for drivers
with speech or hearing impairments to get help in case of an accident or car trouble, or to report a
The so-called "yes-no" devices have been installed in 249 of the 3,500 existing call boxes throughout
the region in a year-long pilot program that began in early January. The devices fit neatly into the
existing bright yellow call boxes and are operated by three buttons. Motorists can select the button
indicating the voice option – or simply lift the receiver – to be connected to the
California Highway Patrol (CHP). Those with speech or hearing disabilities press a second button to be
connected, and a "language select" button to indicate their preference for communicating in English or
Once the button selecting visual communication is pressed, a series of pre-programmed questions –
such as "ambulance?" or "fire?" – appear on a small screen, in the appropriate language. The
motorist responds by pressing the left-hand button for "yes," the right-hand one for "no." The
dispatcher then transmits whatever follow-up questions are needed, concluding with the message that
help is being sent and advising the motorist to wait in a safe place.
"At the end of our pilot program, we expect to retrofit all of our call boxes with devices that allow
motorists with speech or hearing impairments who need roadside help to use any call box in our
network," said Lisa Davies, call box project manager for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission
Service Authority for Freeways and Expressways (MTC SAFE), which administers the region's call box
program in partnership with the CHP and Caltrans.
The greatest number of "yes-no" devices were installed along the most heavily traveled roadways in
counties with the greatest number of registered vehicles – the call box program is funded from
one dollar per motor vehicle registration in each of the nine Bay Area counties. Alameda, Contra Costa,
San Mateo and Santa Clara together received approximately 80 percent of the "yes-no" device-equipped
boxes, and the four northern counties and San Francisco roughly 20 percent.
Until now, drivers with speech or hearing impairments have had two options when trying to use a call
box. If the call box is one of the 1,300 that are equipped with a "call-connected" light, the motorist
lifts the telephone receiver and taps on the mouthpiece to alert the dispatcher. A "call-connected"
light lets the user know that the call has been received and that assistance is forthcoming. None of
these boxes has been retrofitted with the new devices. The other option – for motorists who have
a portable TTY machine – is to connect the TTY with any one of the 3,500 call boxes in the system
and communicate with the dispatcher in that way. Both the "call-connected" and TTY options will remain
in place until the call box network is completely retrofitted with the new devices.
The installation of the "yes-no" devices was part of a nine-month-long systemwide upgrade of the
regional network of call boxes. Other upgrades included Y2K hardware improvements, replacement of faded
or corroded call boxes, and installation of a "Sonalert" device in each of the 3,500 call boxes. The
"Sonalert" functions as a horn – with a greater than 100-decibel alarm – that allows the
dispatcher to recall motorists to the call box to provide or request additional information after
motorists have hung up and returned to safety inside their vehicles to wait for assistance.
MTC is the regional transportation planning, financing and coordinating agency for the nine-county San
Francisco Bay Area. MTC commissioners oversee the regional SAFE.
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