TIFTON – Coordinated Highway Assistance and Maintenance Program (CHAMP) operators logged more than 9,000 incidents in the program’s first year of operation in southwest Georgia.
The Georgia Department of Transportation launched CHAMP last year. Motorists who run out of gas or have flat tires on Interstate 75 are often surprised to see a CHAMP truck arrive and an operator offer help at no charge.
“The numbers show it’s successful. It’s relatively new and I think it’s only going to grow in the coming years as more people learn about it,” GDOT Southwest District Engineer Ritchie Swindell said.
Southwest Georgia CHAMP operators patrol I-75 from the Florida line to the Crisp/Dooly line. They look for maintenance issues that could impact safe travel and motorists who need help, like Indiana resident Jerry Egly. He and his wife were traveling to Florida in February when a tire blew out in Crisp County. It shook them up, but about five minutes later a CHAMP operator stopped to see if they were okay.
“I asked him if he could call someone to change our tire and he said he could change it and he did. No charge and my wife said he had angel wings,” Egly said. “It is a great program and it sure is a benefit to travelers. Every chance I get I share my experience with Georgia’s CHAMP.”
The roadside assistance lets state troopers concentrate on law enforcement, said Georgia State Patrol Cpl. Henry Batts with Post 31 in Valdosta.
“They help us out tremendously, especially helping us with crashes,” Batts said. Each CHAMP truck is equipped with a changeable message sign to alert motorists to move over for a crash ahead. Operators have worked longer, 12 hour shifts during major weather events that created heavier than normal I-75 traffic.
CHAMP operators also look for road hazards such as tire pieces, some of which are large and heavy. Those can damage the air lines of a tractor trailer and the undercarriage of a car, Batts said. A driver might also suddenly swerve or slow down to try and avoid debris, which could cause a crash.
CHAMP operators say the one issue they consistently face is the failure of drivers to give them space to work. A passing car knocked the side mirror off a CHAMP truck at a crash in Lowndes County.
“We’re still getting trucks hit. We had one last week in District Three (Georgia DOT west central). He pulled up behind a car, helped a lady change a tire, got back in his truck and bam,” CHAMP supervisor Ronnie McNorton said.
Georgia’s Move Over requires drivers to move over or slow down when they are in a lane adjacent to a stationary emergency vehicle flashing emergency lights.
CHAMP operators patrol from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. year round on most interstates outside Metro Atlanta. Dial 511 to request help. Assistance in the Metro Atlanta area is provided by the Highway Emergency Response Operator service, also available via 511.
CHAMP is made possible through Georgia’s Transportation Funding Act of 2015. Swindell credited the assistance of Brian Purvis for coordinating efforts to launch the program here and Thomas Mims for holding local training classes for CHAMP operators. For information about CHAMP, including a route map, visit www.dot.ga.gov/CHAMP.