CHICAGO (WLS) -- ABC7 Eyewitness News has covered many expressway shootings in Chicago over the past year.
Police respond quickly. But there's another group put in danger that people probably don't think about. The Illinois Department of Transportation's Emergency Traffic Patrol, known as the minutemen.
I recently had a chance to ride with them on patrol to see how their job has changed over the years. Keeping the roadways safe is the top priority of IDOT'S minutemen.
Whether it's clearing a crash, removing a stall or helping a stranded driver change a tire, the minutemen are specialized in highway safety.
"We'll put you on a six month training: one month in the classroom, two months supervision and the rest of your three months we actually follow you around and make sure you get it," said Zen McHugh, IDOT ETP supervisor.
Up to 14 patrols and two supervisors cover more than 300 lane miles in the Chicago metro area during the a.m. and p.m. rush.
For IDOT minuteman Mike Jordan, the most gratifying part of the job is helping you.
"I'm waiting for Triple A and I say, 'Well I can get you out of here right now, it's a free service from the state of illinois!' They say, 'What? Really? Ya okay!'" Jordan said.
The IDOT minutemen put their lives on the line every day working in traffic but now they're dealing with a new set of dangers: the huge increase in distracted drivers.
"Cell phones. People not paying attention to us. People claiming they don't see us," McHugh said.
Shootings on the expressways are another new concern - not just late at night, but in broad daylight.
A recent I-Team investigation found Chicago-area expressway shootings have more than doubled in the past year. Illinois State Police are adding more highway patrols, including undercover officers to control the road violence.
"A couple weeks ago, I was relocating an accident with another one of our drivers. Another car came up and he was irate. He started blowing the horn, flipping me off, waving his arms out the window. The next thing I know the guy pulled out a gun, showed it to me and sped off," Jordan said.
"If something seems off, we have communications with state police or dispatchers - call them immediately. They are providing bullet proof vests. Ninety-nine percent of the motorists are common people. It's the 1 percent that you really have to stay alert to," McHugh said.
Their calmness in the face of adversity is an admirable trait, but the minutemen simply see it as doing their job.
Some of it is common sense, some of it is being aware of your surroundings. They just want drivers to know they're out there to help.
That's why I call them highway heroes.
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