Dr. Traffic

Is your roadside tow service in the technology gap?

2007 OBSERVER FILE PHOTO - Phil Vasquez, a road service technician with AAA TowMark, tows a car from I-77.
2007 OBSERVER FILE PHOTO - Phil Vasquez, a road service technician with AAA TowMark, tows a car from I-77. Staff Photographer

“Learn something new every day,” my Mom used to say.

So now and then I’d turn the car down a street I’ve never taken, and then figure out how to get back. Done. (Hardly what she had in mind, I’m sure.)

Now a cellphone with mapping apps for GPS (global positioning system) gives me even more freedom to … learn new things about the city and the state. I can find my way home from almost anywhere, as long as the phone is in range of cellular service.


Naturally, I’ve prodded any tech-challenged relatives and friends to get up to speed on this. Can you guess who was at the top of that list? Yeah, and Mom didn’t see it coming.

Gotta say, there was plenty of joy in watching her squirm as I put one of her favorite pearls of wisdom back in her lap. She’s always had a horrible sense of direction, so she gave in. Now she’s hooked – and boldly going to Bible studies in the farthest frontiers. It’s just precious when she fumbles with the features.

So imagine my frustration when I learned that my nationally known roadside assistance company is not plugged in. When my car stopped on Interstate 85 recently, the dispatcher stopped cold when I offered to email or text her my location from my mapping app.

The car was running fine, then not at all in less than 30 seconds. I was able to take an exit and pull over in the grass on the ramp. It was dark, and I immediately called for a tow.

“Where are you?” the dispatcher asked.

I wasn’t sure. I opened the mapping app and named the nearest roads. That didn’t help, so I offered to email a “dropped pin.” From a smartphone, the driver would have directions to my exact location read aloud to him while en route. The dispatcher said she wasn’t set up for that.

She never did figure out where I was stranded, and she dispatched a tow service from the opposite end of the county. In the end, a lot of time, and fuel, was wasted.

The tow truck driver didn’t use GPS either, but he found me. I caught a ride home with a friend, after sending a “pin” that brought her right to me. She got there before the tow truck. (Thank goodness I nagged her to learn her phone’s GPS about two years ago.)

As you can see, I still haven’t let go of this. The technology seems to be just the thing to stay current in this line of work. So I called the company to ask about that, for the sake of this column.

“We are constantly evaluating that technology with GPS, but we really haven’t been able to settle on that technology that we believe is going to be accurate to helping our members,” a company spokeswoman said.

Take your time. I’ll reach in the glove box and pick up the car’s manual the next time I’m sitting on the side of the road. I could spend some time learning how the jack works. That’s a technology I could catch up on.

Karen Sullivan: kmsulliv@charlotteobserver.com, @Sullivan_kms