Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is the purpose of this program?
A: We're fighting to save lives, reduce traffic congestion, cut down on the chaos of the previous system and ensure that citizens are treated fairly by wrecker drivers.
Q: Why am I being towed?
A: For your safety and the safety of other drivers. The vast majority of freeway accidents are the result of disabled vehicles.
Also, disabled vehicles lead to traffic delays.
Q: How much is a tow going to cost?
A: If the vehicle is on the shoulder or on the HOV/HOT lane, the cost of the tow will be $50. For vehicle owners who are unable to pay the charge at the point of service, vehicles will be towed and placed in a city approved storage facility for up to 48 hours at no charge to the owner. The $50 towing fee, however, still applies. Storage fees will be applied after the first 48 hours in addition to the $50 towing charge. If the vehicle is blocking a moving lane of traffic or abandoned, the standard tow rate of $160.50 will apply.
Q: If I have a flat tire, can't I just change it?
A: Citizens should not change tires in the emergency lanes of congested freeways because it is very unsafe to you and to others who use the freeways. You can, however, be towed for a cost of $50 to a safer place where the wrecker driver will change the tire for you.
Q: Isn't the shoulder (emergency lane) safe?
A: No. It is a dangerous place to make minor repairs or to stop for any length of time. Stopping there also creates a distraction and hazard to other motorists. Also the emergency lane is for emergency vehicles to respond to incidents.
Q: I've heard it said that I have six minutes to repair my vehicle or change my tire. Is that correct?
A: No, that's incorrect. You are in danger while you are disabled along the freeways. The six minutes is a performance requirement for tow operators to respond to calls. It does not apply to citizens. We would like vehicles to be removed as quickly as possible.
Q: What rights do I have?
A: Tow drivers are required to provide you with a Motorists Bill of Rights which outlines the program. You do not have the right to remain in the emergency lanes, which some people also call the freeway shoulders.
Q: Where can I be towed?
A: Motorists may request that the vehicle be taken to a safe place (home, repair facility, parking lot, etc.). The cost of the tow is $50 for distances less than one mile after the freeway exit. Effective January 1, 2013, the towing fee for distances greater than one mile will be $160.50 (tows more than 20 miles will be charged an additional $3.21/mile). If the motorist is not present or does not agree, police will authorize the vehicle to be taken to an approved storage facility.
Q: Do I need cash to pay for the tow?
A: Unlike in the previous system where only cash was accepted, payments can be made at the scene by cash, check or major credit cards (VISA, MC, American Express and Discover) or an automobile dealer purchase order, if towed to a dealership. Dealerships provide these purchase orders to customers who use their repair facilities.
Q: What if I can't pay?
A: For vehicle owners who are unable to pay the charge at the point of service, vehicles will be towed and placed in a city approved storage facility for up to 48 hours. Vehicle owners will not be charged for the first 48 hours of storage but, will still be charged $50 for the tow. Storage fees will be applied after the first 48 hours in addition to the $50 towing charge.
Q: What if I have children or more people in my vehicle than the wrecker can accommodate?
A: Police will not authorize a tow unless all the occupants have been accommodated. If a wrecker company is unable to provide transportation and other arrangements cannot be made, a police officer will come to the scene to assist. Remember, the goal of the program is to get people to safety as quickly as possible.
Q: What if I use a wheelchair or are otherwise physically disabled?
A: Public safety is our mission and we will work to get all stranded motorists appropriately to a place of safety.
Q: Can I call my own wrecker service?
A: You can call your wrecker service or auto club to pick you up from the scene, but if SAFEClear arrives at the scene first, SAFEClear will tow your vehicle. The wrecker from your auto club can tow you after that.
Q: How do I know that the wrecker driver who stops for me is legitimate?
A: The tow truck will bear SAFEClear markings. Drivers are required to wear a distinctive reflective vest and wear a photo ID issued by the Houston Police Department. To participate in the program, wrecker drivers must pass a criminal history check.
Q: What if a motorist is still afraid to get into a wrecker?
A: The motorist can request that a police officer be dispatched to the scene to ensure their safety.
Q: What if a wrecker driver damages my vehicle?
A: Wrecker companies are responsible for proper towing and for any damage resulting from an improper tow. Tow companies are required to carry insurance for that purpose.
Q: Who do I call if I have a complaint about the service?
A: The Auto Dealers Detail of the Houston Police Department will investigate all complaints about SAFEClear scenes. The number is 832-394-4869. The email address is hpd.AutoDealers@HoustonPolice.org.
Q: Is this program a scheme to make more money for the city?
A: No. The program is designed to reduce traffic, make freeways safer and assure better quality wrecker service.
Q: Where does SAFEClear apply?
A: On all major freeways within the city limits of Houston.
Q: What part of the freeways are covered?
A: All parts of the freeway from the inside curb of the service road to the inside curb of the opposite service road. Freeway entrance and exit ramps are included, but not the service roads themselves. Also, HOV lanes and tollways are excluded.
Q: What makes you think this program will work?
A: A pilot program has been in effect on I-10 West (the Katy Freeway), one of the most heavily traveled freeways in the city, since March 2004. It has been very successful. Also, a similar program in New York City has been in place and been successful for a number of years.
Q: Are heavy-duty vehicles covered by the program?
A: Not at this time.
Q: Are city vehicles exempt?
A: No. No provisions were made to exempt any government vehicles.
Q: What if I refuse to accept a tow?
A: You must comply with the SAFEClear law. If you refuse a tow, a police officer will be dispatched to the scene to resolve the issue. Officers must respond and clear the freeway for the public safety.
Q: Can I be arrested?
A: Not for having a vehicle which has broken down. But, refusal to comply with the law is a violation of the penal code and is an arrestable offense.
Q: Who do I call to report a disabled vehicle or incident?
A: The Police non-emergency number, 713-884-3131, is the best choice. A citizen also may call 311. Or, in a true emergency, you can call 911.