Alan Peterson cruises the roadways looking for distressed motorists. But this isn't the start to some slasher flick, it's his job.
And more and more in recent months Peterson, Incident Management team leader for the Utah Department of Transportation, has been assisting drivers who have pushed their fuel tanks too far and run out of gasoline. In 2007 the team gave out about 721 gallons of gasoline to stranded people. This year so far, they have already given out about 524 gallons.
"We'll double 2007 easy," Peterson said. "We've had a lot more 'out of gas' instances than in years past, but we only ever give people enough gas to get them to the next station."
In June 2007, the 12-member team assisted 57 people who had let their tanks hit empty on the freeway or interstate. Last month, the team helped 150 motorists refuel.
"What people don't realize is that running out of gas is hard on your car," Peterson said. "Once your tank runs dry, it pushes soot into your engine, and fuel pumps aren't cheap."
The Incident Management team is more than just a fuel service for careless drivers. The members also re-route traffic around accident sites and help motorists with flats, overheating vehicles and failed batteries. Every day is different, Peterson said, but they typically each help one to 20 people a day with mechanical or technical problems.
Tuesday afternoon on I-215 at 1100 South, Peterson helped Janice Taylor and her three daughters replace a punctured tire. In all it took Peterson less then 10 minutes to find and fit the spare so the Taylors could be back on their way home after a tour of a chocolate factory.
"I had an air pump, but I've never had to get the spare out, and I don't know if I could have found it," Taylor said. "He's a lot faster at it than I was, that's for sure."
Taylor remembers when personnel assisted her in the past when she was traveling with her brother.
"It's nice knowing that they'll eventually be here," Taylor said. "If we need help, we've got it."
Peterson said the unit, which is sent to the scene by police dispatchers, is usually unknown to most motorists.
The team is trained primarily to assist the Utah Highway Patrol manage traffic around accident sites. Each truck is fitted with a display sign, an air compressor, water and a slew of traffic cones, Peterson said.
By responding to more calls about empty fuel tanks every month, it's increasing the wait time for other motorists who may need air for a flat tire or water for their radiator, too."Now that we're having to spend more time with these situations, it increases the wait for everyone else," said Adan Carrillo, public information officer for UDOT. "Now instead of waiting 30 minutes for half a gallon of gas, people might have to wait two hours for help."
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