In these days of rising pump prices, jammed traffic and spewing car exhaust, there’s not much good news to be found riding on the region’s roadways.

Until you come across the CVS Samaritan van. Then, you can’t help but smile, knowing if you ever happen to be that unlucky soul who runs into roadside trouble, there’s help on the horizon.

Eric Vance, a CVS freeway service patrol tech as well as a part-time firefighter, has been cruising the highways for about four years. “All of our technicians have to be EMTs as well as mechanics,” notes Vance, who lives in Monroe. “And you get a little extra bonus if you’re a firefighter.”

The drivers, who are ASE-certified in motor vehicle repair as well as licensed emergency medical technicians, provide on-site repairs, medical assistance, even a radio call for a tow truck — all for free. The most common calls come to fill empty gas tanks, remove road debris, and provide transportation if a disabled automobile can’t be fixed at the roadside.

Still, says Vance, nothing can be called routine in this business.

“In this line of work, every day is unique, every day there is a story. People think we just give out gas and fix flats. But we’re usually first on the scene of traumatic situations. We tend to get pigeonholed as high school dropouts, but we’re actually pretty well educated and certified. We carry a variety of drugs and medical supplies. We don’t just jump-start cars. We jump-start hearts.”

How CVS pharmacy got into the business of mending flat tires and charging dead batteries — well, like they say, there’s a funny story behind that. Some 30 years ago, in the bleak February “Blizzard of ’78,” the company launched its first Samaritan vans in New England to aid stranded motorists. Along the way, executives realized that the community spirit campaign goes a long way towards market branding, that the distinctive white-and-red vans are moving billboards for the CVS logo.

Today, CVS vans patrol nine American cities, including — in the Midwest — Cincinnati, Cleveland, Chicago, Indianapolis and Detroit. Columbus, for whatever reason, doesn’t rate.

In Greater Cincinnati, a total of five vans patrol I-275 from Winton Road to Montgomery Road, I-71 and I-75 from Florence to Sharonville, the length of I-471, and I-275 from the Kellogg Avenue exit to the Dixie Highway ramp. If you get a flat out by the airport, well, call AAA.

Samaritans also provide traffic flow information to ARTIMIS (Advanced Regional Traffic Interactive Management & Information System), which pays half the cost for the program (usually around $145,000 for each van annually). ARTIMIS gets its money from taxes at the gas pump, Vance is quick to point out, meaning motorists — and only motorists — are paying for the service. Tax-payers who ride METRO or TANK aren’t asked to fund the Samaritan service, even though they could well one day benefit, especially if there was an on-board medical emergency.

The CVS web site features heroic stories from the road, as well as comments from relieved commuters. This one from Cincinnati is just one example: “One of your vans pulled behind me. Howard calmed my nerves with his friendly smile and took control of the situation. I tried to pay him for his services but he refused. Howard said that the services were free of charge courtesy of CVS pharmacy and if that he wouldn’t be a ‘Good Samaritan’ if he accepted anything for doing a good deed. I was so impressed. I have seen your vans but never realized their true benefit until now. If there was ever any doubt about the value of this service, let me be the first to tell you how thankful I am. (Howard) took a very bad day and made it much brighter.”

Taking bad days and making them brighter. That’s as good a way as any to describe these Good Samaritans.