SC’s SHEP Driver Assistance Program celebrates 20th anniversary

SHEP responder Brian O'Cain, right, helps a motorist in Columbia Monday

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) — South Carolina is marking the 20th anniversary of its State Highway Emergency Program, or SHEP, letting drivers know what kind of impact the program has had. In its 20 years, SHEP has helped more than 771,000 drivers.

The distinctive blue trucks with the amber lights and message boards, used to direct other drivers around an accident, patrol the Upstate, Columbia, Charleston, Florence, Rock Hill, and the Myrtle Beach areas.

SHEP helps drivers who’ve had flat tires, minor accidents, or whose cars have broken down. The trucks are equipped with gas, and an air-powered jack and tools that allow responders to change a flat in about 15 minutes. They first get stalled or wrecked cars off the roads after minor accidents. For major ones, SHEP works with the Highway Patrol to protect first-responders.

Highway Patrol Commander Col. Mike Oliver says, “The actions of SHEP personnel often reduce and prevent secondary collisions that may occur as traffic is impacted on our roadways.”

Christy Hall, SCDOT secretary, said Monday at an anniversary ceremony in Columbia, that SHEP help drivers in addition to those who are having problems. “It’s been said that for every one minute of delay on the Interstate system it adds six minutes of additional travel time to the motorist, so it doesn’t take long to figure out just  how important a program like this is to help keep traffic flowing in our state,” she said.

Brian O’Cain is the only SHEP responder who’s been on the job since the program started in 1996.  He says he likes it because he likes helping people, he gets to be outside, and he never knows what he’s going to run across.

“We had an airplane, a small private plane land on I-26 one afternoon during rush hour. It ran out of fuel and that was interesting, to actually stop traffic and watch the airplane take back off on the Interstate. You don’t get to see that every day,” he says.

His advice to drivers is to move minor accidents off the road as soon as possible, as long as no one is hurt, and if your car has a flat tire or mechanical problem to also get it off the road. “So many times, you’ll have a very minor initial accident or an initial disabled motorist turn into a secondary accident with multiple vehicles, that could’ve been prevented by just clearing the roadway of the cars involved.”

SHEP has three ways of responding to drivers in need: you can call *HP; SHEP has a control center where employees monitor highway cameras and will dispatch help when they spot a problem; and sometimes as SHEP responders are driving around they spot people who need help.

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