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Houston extends pilot period for freeway crash towing program

HOUSTON, Texas — A pilot program that aims to reduce wait times for towing after freeway accidents got an extension June 9.

Houston City Council approved a 6-month extension on the plan which allows members of the Houston Fire Department to call and send pictures and videos to an offsite police officer at the scene of a freeway accident.

When a 911 call is received for a traffic accident, typically the Houston Fire Department arrives at the scene first and waits for HPD to arrive and clear the incident. Under the pilot program, a police officer can remotely approve the towing of vehicles involved in freeway crashes instead of arriving on scene.

Houston motorists have reported waiting up to an hour to remove their vehicles from the site of a freeway crash, said Lt. Isaac Dupelchain of the Houston Police Vehicular Crimes Unit during a presentation to the Houston City Council Public Safety Committee Meeting.

“We’re dispatched to 10,000 crashes a year, and many of them are minor, but city ordinances require HPD to order vehicle removal from the freeway,” he said.

In ideal scenarios, officials said the program can reduce towing wait times to 10 minutes.

The Houston Galveston Area Council funds the entire project which costs about $200,000. If the city seeks to adopt the program after the pilot period, a cost-savings analysis will be conducted, according to city documents. The program was initially approved for a pilot period of six months from June to December 2020. It was extended in December 2020 and for a second time in June 2021 because reduced traffic during the COVID-19 pandemic hampered H-GAC’s efforts to measure the success of the program. The pilot area only includes freeways within Houston city limits.

District J Council Member Edward Pollard, a personal injury attorney, expressed concern over the program because he said it could complicate insurance matters. He voted against the extension.

“Although it sounds good on paper, in a practical sense, it has some unintended consequences,” Pollard said. “It’s going to be very difficult for an officer to be able to determine fault when doing a virtual investigation. They’re not going to see, in this case, if they are getting two different sides of the story and conflicting statements.”

Council Member Abbie Kamin, chair of the public safety committee, said drivers can still request that a police officer visit the scene in person to make a report.

“Residents can still, of course, request an officer come on to the scene and the fire department can as well. There are certain circumstances when HPD needs to be there,” she said.

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