What would you do if your car broke down and got stuck on the side of the highway?

The state Department of Transportation provides emergency assistance to more than 70,000 Garden State drivers every year.

And the service is free.

“DOT Safety Service Patrol trucks are on several New Jersey roadways, looking for motorists pulled over to the side of the road, and helping them with a variety of services,” said Department of Transportation spokesman Steve Schapiro. “They’re helping motorist who may have a disabled vehicle or a mechanical failure and they’ve actually been out on the roads for more than 20 years.”

According to Schapiro, 20 vehicles patrol approximately 225 miles of interstate and state highways in New Jersey every day.

“Basically if they see a vehicle on the side of the road, they’ll stop, put their flashing lights on, and they can do all sorts of things: change a tire, minor maintenance if needed."

The safety patrols operate Monday through Friday from 4:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on weekends and holidays from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The operate on portions Routes 76, 78, 80, 95, 195, 280, 287, 295, 440 and 676.

It's also on state highways 29, 42 and 55.

“It’s very kind of folks to offer to tip, but unfortunately our staff are not allowed to take tips,” he said.

Schapiro noted the DOT has received many letters of thanks, referring to the drivers as “angels” or “heroes.”

“They really are heroes,” he said. “You know they’re out there every day, whether it’s the extreme heat that we’ve been experiencing this summer or cold weather, rain, snow.”

He noted if you have a problem with your vehicle you can get assistance in a couple of different ways.

“They’re patrolling their routes and if they see you they will stop,” he said. “And another way is if you contact the police they will alert our SSP if we have some on that roadway.

He said the SSP drivers don’t only help with mechanical problems.

“There was a recent case when a Safety Patrol driver saw someone pulled over on the side of the road, and after stopping he realized there was a problem with the driver, and medical personnel determined the individual had dementia and had been reported in New York State, and so we were able to return them to his family,” he said.

Schapiro stressed New Jersey’s Move Over law requires drivers to move out of a lane that’s next to the shoulder if there’s a disabled vehicle there, to create a more safe environment.

He explained this is a public-private partnership, paid for with federal highway administration funds and State Farm insurance.

Tom Feeney, a spokesman for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority, said the Turnpike and the Parkway also have emergency vehicles that help motorists in distress, but their program is a bit different.

“Sunoco has road service vans that provide emergency repairs up and down the Turnpike” he said. “They are attached to the service areas and are dispatched when people call for roadside assistance (#95 on the Turnpike, #477 on the Parkway) or when State Police spot a disabled vehicle. They provide minor repair services such as jump starting a battery, changing a tire, or dispensing fuel, oil or water, and they charge $32 plus the cost of any parts or materials they provide.”

He added “road service on the Parkway is provided by the same companies that have contracts to provide towing services. There are a couple dozen of them. They have contracts for specific sections of the road (for example, milepost 0 to 25). The cost to drivers is the same as on the Turnpike. And, like on the Turnpike, the service is available 24/7 and on all sections of the road.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.