In an age of widespread smartphone penetration, the utility of the rarely used emergency telephones lining the nation’s freeways has sparked debate within the legislature.
It costs the Taiwan Area National Freeway Bureau more than NT$10 million (US$330,000) a year to maintain the emergency phones, which are installed at 1km intervals on open roads and every 250m in tunnels.
The emergency lines have been used an average of 2,200 times a year over the past four years, which translates to more than NT$6,000 in maintenance costs per call, the bureau’s data show.
In case of emergency, motorists can dial the bureau’s toll-free number — 1968 — from their mobile phones instead of trying to reach the nearest roadside emergency line.
Despite these figures, some legislators are staunchly against the idea of eradicating the system.
Not every person traveling on freeways has a cellphone and even if they do, their mobile could be out of battery when they need to reach emergency services, several lawmakers said.
They added that the key issue is not whether the roadside lines have outlived their usefulness, but if they are reliable.
One lawmaker cited a recent incident in which a taxi driver was robbed on National Freeway No. 1 and forced to get out of his vehicle, but could not seek help because the emergency freeway phone he found was out of order.
The bureau said it has increased the frequency of the emergency lines’ inspections from once every quarter to once a month.
However, it added that roadside phones in areas with good cellphone reception will be removed soon. The removals may be expanded to include other freeway sections in the future, but the bureau has ruled out scrapping the entire network.
The bureau reminded the public that they can dial “112” to reach emergency services even if they cannot get signal on their cellphones and urged all motorists to be good Samaritans and help fellow travelers in trouble.