The U.S. should write standards for GPS-connected devices used by truck and bus drivers to stop them from hitting low bridges after driving onto restricted roads, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer said.
Truckers following faulty directions by global positioning systems devices have hit bridges in New York City, Long Island and Westchester County more than 200 times in the past two years, the New York Democrat said in a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood yesterday.
About 80 percent of bridge strikes in New York state, where parkways with low overpasses are supposed to be closed to commercial traffic, are caused by GPS misdirection, Schumer said. Even if the roads are well-marked, GPS devices may not note restrictions on trucks and buses, he said.
“These accidents are frequent, costly, dangerous and entirely avoidable,” Schumer said. “If we have the technology to send a truck to Mars, we have the technology to prevent trucks from crashing into bridges.”
The Transportation Department is reviewing Schumer’s letter and hasn’t responded, Justin Nisly, a spokesman, said.
Ted Gartner, a spokesman for GPS device maker Garmin Ltd., based in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, didn’t return a phone call seeking comment. Lea Armstrong, a spokeswoman for Amsterdam-based TomTom NV, Europe’s largest producer of portable navigation devices, didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment. Mike Swiek, a spokesman for the Washington-based United States GPS Industry Council, declined to comment.
Navigation devices made for truck drivers include information such as bridge clearances, according to a September 2011 report by the New York State Department of Transportation. Many truck drivers who end up on parkways with restrictions on commercial traffic are relying on consumer GPS units, and some use Google Inc.’s Google Maps, it said.
In New York suburbs such as Westchester and Long Island, bridges going over roads like the Hutchinson and Saw Mill parkways may have clearances of less than 10 feet. In New York City, 110 bridges were struck in 2010 and 2011. On Long Island, 94 bridges were struck during the same period, Schumer said.
Repairs on the Long Island Expressway alone due to truck-bridge accidents have cost $4.1 million, Schumer said. In addition, the state has spent $3 million for 300 bridge warning signs, he said.
The American Trucking Associations supports research into the causes of truck-bridge strikes and urges states like New York to work with trucking companies and technology firms to ensure the most up-to-date mapping information is available, said Sean McNally, spokesman for the Arlington, Virginia-based trade group.
“A call for national standards appears premature,” McNally said.
According to Transportation Department data, there were 15,000 bridge strikes by all types of vehicles in 2010, resulting in 214 deaths and 3,000 injuries.
Schumer held a news conference yesterday at a bridge at Mamaroneck Road on the Hutchinson River Parkway that he said is the most-struck bridge in New York state, having been hit 95 times since 1993. The bridge has a clearance of 9 feet, 9 inches.
A tractor-trailer crashed into an overpass on the Hutchinson Parkway Sept. 14, severely damaging the trailer and its cargo and endangering the lives of other motorists, Schumer said.
Bridges in New York’s Hudson River Valley have been struck 855 times over the past two decades, he said.
New York isn’t the only state dealing with truck strikes. On Feb. 15, bridges were struck in four separate cities in Connecticut, according to television station WTNH in New Haven.