Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

April 2017


Selecting the Right Service Patrol Program

Whether beginning a new Safety Service Patrol (SSP) program or exploring the possible enhancement of an existing program, there are several factors to take into consideration in order to provide the most efficient and effective program that will meet the needs of the agency, other responders, and the public. This chapter provides suggestions based on best practices of existing SSP programs regarding the recommended type of service patrol program, features, and challenges. When assembling the elements of an SSP program, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Factors to Consider

The choice of which aspects to implement should be determined by the identified needs of the agency, what issues the agency would like to address, and the cost of the implementation, operations, and maintenance of the programs. Budget constraints are often the biggest factors in determining the level of service and type of program to implement. Visiting agencies with existing SSP programs and talking with the staff that oversee and operate the program on a day-to-day basis can reveal ideas about operations, implementation, Traffic Incident Management (TIM) strategies, and lessons learned for further consideration.

Pilot implementations will aid the agency in determining if the option or options chosen will fulfill the needs identified and produce a benefit to the agency and the traveling public. Gathering performance data as a baseline to measure the pilot results against will provide a basis for evaluating benefits of the pilot implementation toward addressing the agency's needs. The needs, operational issues to be addressed, performance measures to be collected, and the cost of the implementation, operations, and maintenance should be documented in an implementation plan for the SSP program.

Funding Options

Funding availability will determine the level and scope of services the SSP program can provide. There are many options available for funding SSP programs and services. One of the most important aspects of an SSP is public and legislative awareness of the program. Awareness of the benefits that the SSP program contributes to increasing or sustaining program finances. The Safe Highway Matters newsletter[15], quoted Ricky Via of the Virginia Department of Transportation saying, "Greater awareness of the program enhances everyone's safety and helps sustain the program," adding that the public's perception of the program is obvious when budget cuts loom. "There have been years past when the SSP program has been cut in whole or in portion and the public rallies up and creates a lot of chatter on why. It creates a firestorm of media outreach and feedback from citizens saying they need it."

Federal funding is available to support these types of programs for up to three years, but the availability of these funds depends on how the agency is currently using this pool of money and its eligibility. The various funding programs for which SSP operations are eligible for a three-year period include:

  • Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ)

    Two of the categories eligible for these funds for incident management efforts include:

    1.  Establishment or operation of a traffic monitoring, management, and control facility, including the installation of advanced truck stop electrification systems.

    2.  Projects that improve traffic flow, including efforts to provide signal systemization, construct HOV lanes, streamline intersections, add turning lanes, improve transportation systems management and operations that mitigate congestion and improve air quality, and implement ITS and other CMAQ-eligible projects, including efforts to improve incident and emergency response or improve mobility, such as through real time traffic, transit and multimodal traveler information.

  • Surface Transportation Program (STP)

    Activities that can be funded using STP include capital and operating costs for traffic monitoring, management, and control facilities, highway and transit research and development and technology transfer programs, as well as infrastructure-based intelligent transportation systems capital improvements.

  • National Highway System (NHS)

    Activities that can be funded using NHS include operational improvements for segments of the NHS, Highway-related technology transfer activities, capital and operating costs for traffic monitoring, management, and control facilities and programs.

An example of how some of the State and federal funding can be used to help fund a program is from the Maryland Coordinated Highways Action Response Team (CHART) Program and how they are using their funds.

  • Most of Maryland CHART Program's activities are funded under the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) STP, NHS, and CMAQ programs. The federal share is 80% of the estimated cost of the operations-related program activities and the State matches with 20% of the costs. The Maryland State Highway Administration (MdSHA) takes care of the 20% match primarily through "Toll Credits."

    In the last several years, the MdSHA has partnered with bordering States and local jurisdictions to apply for Homeland Security Grants for a number of initiatives that include ITS device deployment on emergency evacuation routes and development of evacuation plans for weather and man-made emergencies. Funding obtained through these grants are considerably less than the funds dedicated for the CHART Program through the MdSHA Consolidated Transportation Program.

  • Funding for Georgia's Highway Emergency Response Operators (HERO) program has been provided by CMAQ funding under the guidance of the Atlanta Regional Commission's Incident Management Task Force. Sponsorship contributions from a private provider are also being made to the program.

Another strategy for funding the deployment and maintenance of a Service Patrol is through a sponsorship program or public/private partnerships. Agencies should not depend upon sponsorships to fully fund their programs. In fact, even the most successful sponsorship programs pay for only a small percentage, typically 10% or less, of an agency's entire program. It is not unrealistic to subsidize a percentage of an agency's annual costs through sponsorships, although the number of such sponsorships may need to be limited for practical and business purposes.

There are various types of sponsorship agreements. The sponsorship approach provides part of the funding necessary for operating the service patrols in exchange for public acknowledgment for the sponsor. In some cases, the sponsor will also provide the patrollers and the service patrol vehicles at no charge to the agency. These service patrols may be limited in the level of services they can provide contingent upon the executed agreement between the agency and the sponsor.

The most common concessions in sponsorship agreements include providing visual acknowledgments directly on the fleet vehicles and sometimes patches on the uniforms of the drivers. This is typically accomplished via sponsor logos and decal wraps being applied directly on the vehicles themselves. Additional acknowledgment is usually offered via roadside signage.

Some agencies have chosen to use an external contract with professionals that specialize in sponsorship and advertising. This allows the agency to take advantage of other activities that are performed by that contractor. Typically those types of contractors represent many different mediums and products for potential sponsors, and they have ties to companies already accustomed to investing resources into sponsorships and advertising.

There are important issues to remember in relation to sponsorships. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) allows for agencies to accommodate concessions to sponsors via roadside signage. However, "advertising" is not permitted. Agencies should pay close attention to the distinction between sponsorship and advertising before making their decision to use this strategy, as well as any laws and/or policies in their States and jurisdictions that might preclude them from pursuing a sponsorship program. Some agencies chose sponsorship only to learn later that their State statutes clearly precluded them from collecting any revenues via advertising and/or sponsorships or the revenues are directed to the general fund rather than the department that acquired the funding. To eliminate these issues, agencies are encouraged to get the necessary approvals before entering into any sponsorship agreements. Before entering into or renewing a sponsorship agreement it is beneficial to query other States and agencies who use sponsorships to ensure the program is realizing the maximum benefit.

Several organizations have been frequent sponsors of service patrols in the United States, including insurance companies, pharmacy chains, and even public transit agencies. One insurance company sponsors SSP activities in at least 14 States. Benefits of sponsorship include a favorable association with a successful safety and operations program as well as different forms of visual acknowledgment of their sponsorships.

Staffing Options

A variety of staffing options are available for an SSP program, which were discussed in Section 2.1. While it may be desirable by many agencies to manage the SSP completely in-house, this can also be a difficult option to implement or maintain when agencies decide to reduce their workforce. In lieu of agency personnel, many SSP programs have been using contracted services. To pay for some of the contracted services sponsorship agreements are often implemented to support funding and staffing of the programs.

Service Patrol Justification

Service patrol justification is important to initiate, sustain, and enhance the growth or level of service of a service patrol program. To sustain or enhance a program, strong performance measures coupled with benefit/cost information are invaluable tools to raise public awareness and support of these programs. Agencies sometimes downsize service patrol programs during lean economic times as an easy way to cut spending. Public requests for the SSP programs, coupled with the justified benefits that these programs deliver, have reversed agencies' SSP downsizing approaches and reinstated the programs. Agencies, such as the Hawaii State Department of Transportation, have demonstrated the benefits of their SSP programs and have been able to expand patrols, hours, and/or routes.

Performance data is needed to justify and support expansion or implementation of services. The data collected needs to measure the variances in the issues being addressed with the introduction of additional services or even to defend the continuation of an existing program. Collecting transportation system performance data prior to the implementation of an SSP pilot program will provide a baseline from which to compare data collected after the SSP pilot program has been operational. The comparison analysis of the before and after data will provide the insight into the effectiveness of the pilot on the issues to be addressed. The performance measurement information equips an agency to demonstrate the cost benefit information for the patrol operation.

In 2009, as a result of a focus group initiative, FHWA developed basic performance measures viewed as obtainable and valuable to warrant TIM programs, including SSP. These performance measures included:

  • Roadway clearance time.
  • Incident clearance time.
  • Secondary incidents.

While these performance measures are typical, other data sets can be useful to an agency in determining the cost benefit of the program. These include patrol routes, operating hours, and functional levels of service patrols which can be used when justifying TIM programs and their related activities. The following list from the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Guidance for Implementation of Traffic Incident Management Performance Measurement[16] provides a non-exhaustive set of performance measures for TIM evaluations including:

  • Number of incidents.
  • Frequency of incidents.
  • Incident delay.
  • Times related to the closure/opening of individual lanes.
  • Severity of incidents.
  • Number of fatalities.
  • Service patrol statistics (e.g., roadway miles covered, number of assistance calls, etc.).
  • After-action statistics (e.g., number of reviews, percent of participating agencies, etc.).
  • Travel delay.
  • Queue length.

Other data sets should be collected to measure the safety of the SSP program operation, such as responders struck as a secondary incident, work zone related crashes, and weather related events. One data set used in many States, including Maryland and Virginia, consists of incident clearance times for different levels of incident severity, for both routes with SSP and routes without SSP. As discussed in Chapter 2, several evaluations have shown a decrease in the clearance time for incidents as a result of SSP and very favorable benefit-cost ratios have been realized over time.

The Maryland CHART Program performed pilot operations for weekend and weeknight operations to justify expansion of the SSP program. Assessment of the resulting data ultimately supported a justification for 24 hours per day/7 days per week operations. The expansion in services included increases in the vehicle fleet, increased permanent State employee staffing, and an increase in the SSP budget allotment. Program expansion justification and awareness of the program's benefits to the decision-makers can take years to collect and analyze. Some of the data that Maryland has used to justify the SSP expansion, such as accident data as well as data showing their performance on a daily basis coupled with data collected during two pilot initiatives are summarized in Table 10.

Table 10. 2008 Accidents by County (in Maryland) and Time of Week.
County Week
Night And Weekend Total Night And Weekend Percent Of All Accidents

































Prince George's
















In 2014, the Maryland CHART Program:

  • Assisted 36,612 motorists (one every 14 minutes).
  • Managed 24,212 incidents (one every 22 minutes).

In 2013, the Maryland CHART Program:

  • Conducted a pilot project for overnight and weekend patrols.
  • Gathered and analyzed data.
  • Provided justification for expansion of the service patrol program.
  • Received expansion support from FHWA due to a projected cost benefit ratio of 32:1.
  • Doubled its patrol workforce and added equipment and vehicles in order to accommodate the expansion.

The Maryland example shows how good data and performance measures can be used to justify programs and enhancements.

The Washington State Department of Transportation made progress over the last several years in securing consistent, reliable TIM program funding from their State legislature as a result of TIM performance measurement. The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) reports notable success in improving the public perception of their agency which is a major benefit in supporting the program.

Not all programs use a common formula for developing their cost benefit ratios, but the majority of these numbers are very conservative. There are many examples of the data and performance measures captured by agencies that operate service patrol programs that can be used as models. The following are examples from some of these agencies.

Washington State Incident Response Program

Washington State maintains most of their data in a publication known as the "Grey Notebook". According to the Grey Notebook latest edition[17], WSDOT's Incident Response (IR) teams responded to 11,784 incidents in the second quarter of 2013 (April 1 through June 30), clearing them in an average of 12.1 minutes".

These responses are not broken down by motorist assists and incidents, and they have included 606 responses where the problem was never located but these were not figured in with the benefit data. These actions `2provided public with $17.4 million in economic benefit. The benefits are broken down into two categories. The first is quick clearance which accounted for about $9.7 million of the benefit. The quick clearance benefit is calculated based on the reduction in delay and the savings in fuel consumption and time that motorists experienced. The second benefit is the reduction of secondary incidents and their associated costs by proactively managing traffic at incident scenes. The estimated number of secondary collisions prevented was about 2,236, which yielded a benefit of about $7.7 million. According to the 2012 WSDOT Annual Congestion Report[18], WSDOT's IR Program responded to 44,492 incidents in 2011 with an overall savings of more than $72 million realized by the public.

The Incident Response program itself had a 2011-2013 budget of $9 million which yields an estimated annual benefit to cost ratio of 16:1.

Missouri Department of Transportation's Motorist Assist/Emergency Response Program

The Missouri Department of Transportation's Motorist Assist and Emergency Response Program reported a cost to benefit ratio for 2009 of 38.25:1 according to "The Evaluation of Motorists Assist Program"[19] February 2010 report.

The ratio estimate was based on a nationally accepted the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) methodology and was based on a reduction of 1,082 secondary crashes at an average crash value of $72,350 per crash resulting in a savings or social benefit of $78,264,017. The estimated reduction in congestion cost due to clearing incidents quicker resulted in an estimated annual savings of $1,130,000. The Missouri Department of Transportation produced a report that is based on an arterial service patrol named the I-64 Traffic Response program. This Arterial Service Patrol was part of a regional traffic management strategy to address mobility issues during the two-year full closure for the I-64 construction project which relied on arterials to divert impacted traffic. The title of the report is "Evaluation of Arterial Service Patrol Programs December 2009"[20] and was an interim report to show the benefits of the arterial strategy.

The report was prepared by the University of Missouri-Columbia and Missouri Department of Transportation. The initial results show an estimated conservative annual benefit cost ratio of 8.3:1 based on the factors of traffic delays, emissions impact, secondary crashes, and staff savings. Some of the highlights of this report that helped to make up the benefit cost ratio were that the program reduced secondary crashes by 183 per year with a potential annual benefit of $4,980,468. The program realized annual congestion-related costs savings of $1,034,000. This effort supported community emergency response, promoted safer and quicker incident response and clearance as well as reduced the amount of Emergency Response resources for TIM activities freeing up responders for other community needs.


Service patrol programs face institutional challenges, such as the loss of key personnel through attrition, which can change the program's performance or direction. There are other challenges that programs deal with on a daily basis, such as inter-agency coordination and cooperation, staffing with dedicated qualified personnel, delivery of a successful program under tight financial constraints, vehicle maintenance and replacement cycles, and many others. These issues that can be major impediments to the formation and continuation of Service Patrols. The following are challenges experienced in Florida.

  • Legislative Support Issues. In April 2008, due to budget cuts, the Florida House and Senate approved a reduced budget with no monies budgeted to the Road Rangers Freeway Service Patrol (FSP) program. At the time, State legislators perceived the program to be a free service that was similar to that provided to American Automobile Association (AAA) members, with a focus on providing "free gas and changing tires." The program was scheduled to cease operations statewide on July 1, 2008. However, the program was popular with the public, who stated their objections with the proposed program cancellation. Many sympathetic public and private organizations lobbied for restoring Road Ranger funds due to their demonstrated benefits related to TIM and congestion reduction.

    Before the legislative session ended, the Florida Legislature had reversed their decision and funded the program at 50% of the requested budget. The following year the program was 100%-funded. Although the motorist assistance aspect of the Road Rangers was visible and popular with the public, the primary purpose of the program was incident response, which generated the most significant mobility and safety benefits. A robust and on-going education and outreach effort about SSP programs is critical for the general public and for elected officials, including legislators. Such an education effort allows public officials to understand the necessity and value of SSP and provides them with basic facts about the service.

  • Towing Industry Issues. The second issue in Florida involved political pressure brought by "Towing Associations" and lobbyists working with or for the towing industry. The towing industry was concerned that SSP would take away some of their business which could be detrimental to their companies. This perception has been realized in other parts of the country as well and once the SSP program officials have met with the towing industry, typically the concerns have been resolved. The education of the public is valuable, as is the education of the towing industry relative to what the SSP's mission will be. The towing industry should be involved at the inception of the SSP program, if possible, to reduce misinterpretations of the SSP's role. Private towing operators should be included in "Traffic Incident Teams," and included in multi-agency training and exercises. This will strengthen relationships within the team and confidence in the program. SSPs generally work well with the towers and bring an added amount of protection to towing industry employees working in or along the highways.

According to the NCHRP TIM Guidance, the most prevalent issues facing most TIM programs is the availability of data and data sharing between agencies responsible for incident response. Discussions of the challenges with performance measurement data list several common themes, including:

  • Whether performance measures represent a key concern.
  • Inconsistent definitions.
  • Data availability.
  • Cost of data collection.
  • Data quality/completeness.
  • Data sharing.
  • Data exchange.
  • Data integration.
  • Appropriate comparisons to other operations.
  • Partial coverage extrapolation.
  • Extraneous influences in the data.
  • Conflicts with other measuring programs – which is "right"?
  • Timeliness of data.
  • Performance measures in the allocation of funding.
  • Liability for action, or lack thereof, based on performance measurement results.
  • Responsibility for measures for which there may be limited control.

There are a host of other daily challenges service patrol program operators face such as maintaining the vehicle fleet in order to perform to expectations, personnel issues, and providing the level of expected service consistently day in and day out.

[15] "Raising SSP Awareness", Safe Highway Matters Newsletter, 2015, [Return to Note]

[16] "Guidance for Implementation of Traffic Incident Management Performance Measurement", National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), 2014, [Return to Note]

[17] "The Gray Notebook", Washington State Department of Transportation, 2013 [Return to Note]

[18] "The 2012 Congestion Report", Washington State Department of Transportation, 2012 [Return to Note]

[19] "Evaluation of Freeway Motorist Assist Program", Missouri Department of Transportation, 2010 [Return to Note]

[20] "Evaluation of Arterial Service Patrol Programs", Missouri Department of Transportation, 2009 [Return to Note]

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