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SAFE: Public Service Or Waste Of Money?

You’ve likely seen those blue emergency roadside, call-boxes along area freeways. The San Diego Service Authority for Freeway Emergencies (SAFE) oversees them. Call box use has declined dramatically over the years, displaced by cell-phone use.

But SAFE still receives about $2.5 million annually to spend on motorist aide. County Supervisor Ron Roberts is vice-chair of the SAFE board. He said it funds more than just call boxes. SAFE, for example, provides 15 percent of the funding for San Diego’s Fire and Rescue Helicopters.

“What we’ve found is that they’ve been able to help us in a significant way when we’ve had accidents and other things,” Roberts said. “And actually have saved people’s lives. So it’s not just the call-box system.”


Roberts sees the call boxes eventually going away, perhaps being replaced by new technology. San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez also serves on the SAFE Board. He said the agency has drifted from its original purpose and needs to refocus.

“Maybe a revisit to the mission and to how that’s going to be accomplished,” Alvarez said. “Some sort of discussion of why the program exists and whether what we’re funding continues to support the existence of the program.”

SAFE’s money comes from a $1 fee charged to every car registered in the county. Its initial mission was to manage call boxes. But cell phones have made call boxes all but obsolete. And critics, such as San Diego City Beat, say that makes SAFE obsolete as well.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.