You’ve seen their yellow trucks driving on Chicago area expressways for decades. And without them, chances are your next commute in to the city or suburbs would probably take a lot longer than usual.
The Illinois Department of Transportation Emergency Traffic Patrol, also known as the Minutemen, are a group of state employees who can arrive to the location of a stalled vehicle within minutes to help keep the lanes free and clear. Based out of the IDOT facility at 35th Street and Normal Avenue, the Minutemen operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and currently patrol 1,037 lane miles on seven major expressways.
The Minutemen formed in the fall of 1960 and they typically help motorists when needed and can push or tow vehicles to a safer location, provide gasoline, and change flat tires. IDOT said it’s emergency traffic patrol drivers average about 80,000 driver assists every year.
NBC 5 sat down with a group of Minutemen who said reactions to their free service often comes with disbelief.
“They don’t know who I am and where I’m coming from,” said Minutemen driver Jerry Lockhart. “They believe, oh, AAA, send you so quickly. No. Not quite.”
But in recent years the dangers these emergency workers face on a daily basis has increased as more and more drivers are distracted by their smartphones.
“People aren’t paying attention,” said Minutemen supervisor Jay Seifried.
They urge drivers to reduce their speed in inclement weather and to yield to the right when a Minutemen truck is behind them. Minutemen also request motorists give them a wide birth when they see the yellow trucks helping other drivers.
The Minutemen said their trucks have been hit multiple times by other drivers and they often have close calls while working outside the confines of their trucks.
“I looked up and there was a car just coming right at me,” said Minutemen driver Christian Martinez. “You heard the tires lock up and it just slid. I had to dive under the semi or I would have been hit.”
Minutemen also said they are also supplied with bullet proof vests due to the increase in highway shootings.
“You don’t know if they’re going to be shooting at you or if it’s still an active shooting,” Seifried said.
They also witness the aftermath of a growing number of wrong way driving accidents.
“People wouldn’t believe it, but it happens all the time,” said Minutemen supervisor Rudolph Dehoyos.
By and large these emergency personnel said they receive a positive response from the people they help.
But they are not allowed to accept gratuity from appreciative motorists.
Lockhart said handshake or a “thank you” will suffice.