Transportation Matters in Iowa | Blog

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Highway Helper program keeps Iowans moving in four metro areas


DSC_5346This week we are focusing on the safety of our workers in work zones and getting you through those areas without incident. However, work zones aren’t the only dangerous place to be on the roadway.

A stalled vehicle may not be viewed as a major safety hazard. But the Iowa DOT conducted a three-year study and found that 759 crashes occurred near or with stalled/abandoned vehicles. These crashes resulted in 16 fatalities and 249 injuries. 

No one leaves on a trip expecting their vehicle to have a breakdown or be involved in a crash. Being stranded on the side of the road, especially a busy interstate in a metro area can rattle even the most seasoned traveler and become as shown above can be a major safety hazard for both you and your fellow travelers. So if you find yourself on the side of the road in the Des Moines, Cedar Rapids/Iowa City, Council Bluffs, or Quad City metro areas, you just might find one of our Highway Helpers coming to assist you.

HIghway Helper equipmentThe Iowa Department of Transportation began the Highway Helper program in Des Moines and has since expanded to three additional metro areas. Highway Helper services can clear debris from the road and quickly address the needs of stranded motorists by providing jump starts, tire changes, up to two gallons of fuel, and transportation to a safe location. In addition, each truck is equipped to provide traffic control and quick clearance for emergency responders.

To best serve motorists, Highway Helper vehicles are on patrol during normal service hours in high traffic volume corridors looking for motorists needing assistance. Service hours are generally during the morning and afternoon rush and the daytime hours between. However, our Highway Helpers are also patrolling during special events that can have the tendency to increase traffic. In addition to regularly patrolling the heaviest traveled metro roadways, operators in Iowa DOT’s Traffic Management Center utilize hundreds of traffic cameras around the state to identify stranded motorists and dispatch a Highway Helper when needed.

What to do if you’re stranded on the side of the road.

Any unexpected object on or alongside the road can cause a traffic slowdown, which increases the chances of a crash. For many of us, a flat tire, running out of gas, or having another issue that may leave us stranded on the side of the road is not a common occurrence and we may not know what to do. Here are a few tips.

  1. Stay in your vehicle with your seat belt fastened.
  2. To get help, call a trained roadside assistance provider or 911. The 911 dispatcher can send the Highway Helper or law enforcement to help you.
  3. Please don’t call a friend or relative to help. Having someone who doesn’t have the training in safely providing roadside assistance just brings another vehicle to the scene and can cause an even more dangerous situation.
Incidents by type 2020
This graph of Highway Helper activity in 2020 shows that assisting motorists with stalled vehicles is the main service these men and women provide. For more information on the number and types of incidents responded to by Highway Helpers, go to


Stalled vehicles can cause significant traffic issues

DSC_5357_2If your vehicle has a flat tire, runs out of gas, or has stalled for another reason, having a Highway Helper respond and help can get you back on the road so you don’t put yourself in danger by trying to fix the problem yourself or abandoning your vehicle alongside the road to get help elsewhere. If a Highway Helper is assisting you, the safest place for you to be is in your vehicle with your seat belt fastened.

At a crash scene, the Highway Helper can assist law enforcement by positioning a vehicle near the end of the initial traffic back up with their lights flashing. This can help alert drivers coming near the scene that they need to slow down and pay extra attention in the area with the goal of reducing additional crashes.

Why keeping traffic moving is important

When managing traffic incidents like stalled vehicles or crashes, every minute counts. Research has shown that for every minute a lane is blocked, the risk of another crash in the same area increases by 2.8 percent. For an incident that blocks a lane for longer than 30 minutes, the likelihood of a secondary crash is very high and secondary crashes are often more serious than the initial incident.

So whether that’s debris on the road, a stalled vehicle, or a crash, having the Highway Helpers available to quickly resolve the issue keeps traffic moving more reliably and creates a safer commute for everyone.


HH blog service times (1)


As part of the program, motorists who receive assistance are asked to provide feedback on the program. Here are just a few of the comments that have been received.

HH Thank you


I had a flat tire on the interstate. I was alone and the only person who could help me was at work. I called 911 and they sent John with Highway Helpers...what a God send! He arrived maybe 10 minutes later and even brought me a bottle of water. How thoughtful! Just wanted to say thank you soooo much. What an awesome service.

On Tuesday, at 3;00 am, we had a blow out on 35 right before the interstate 80 west exit. One of the Highway Helpers was right there with lighted cones and that was so amazing. Having somebody watch over you and your safety was incredible. He made a very scary situation much better. I wish I could thank our Helper in person, he was incredible. This is certainly an amazing program. Thank you!

You can always call 911 if you are stranded on any roadway.

Who do we call if we are stranded on Highway 20?

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Iowa highway in the evening