Emergency assistance calls related to empty gas tanks increase by 200% amid higher gas prices

Highway Helper service in Iowa is getting a record number of calls from motorists who are running out of gas. (Source: KCRG)
Published: Jun. 28, 2022 at 9:02 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Data from the Iowa Department of Transportation shows a 200% increase in calls for an emergency roadside assistance program related to empty gas tanks.

The data, which our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team, received through an open records request shows an increase in call volume for the Highway Helper happened around Spring. The biggest change happened in March, which increased by 589%.

The Department of Transportation believes the increase in calls is related to the higher gas prices seen across the country. The average price for a gallon of gas in Iowa is $4.60, compared to $2.92 last year according to AAA. However, fuel prices have decreased from a record high two weeks ago.

The Highway Helper is equipped with two five-gallon gas tanks and can give drivers free gas to get to the closest station. The truck can also jump cars, fixes flat tires, and other road-based emergencies for free.

Brad Cowdin, who drives the Highway Helper, said not everyone who runs out of gas is on the side of the highway. He said he often provides gas to those living in their cars since they keep the cars running overnight to stay cool.

“If you’re on a fixed income or your budget is tight,” Cowdin said. “You know, five gallons a gallon of gas doesn’t get you a lot.”

The Iowa Department of Transportation contracts with Autobase Inc, which is based in Amityville, New York, to provide the service. Documents our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team requested show the service costs $2.4 Million.

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