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Schumer says too many trucks are striking overpasses

WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley

U.S. Senator Charles Schumer says too many trucks are crashing into bridge overpasses, especially in Western New York. 

Schumer appeared in Buffalo Thursday near the CSX Railroad overpass at William and Metcalfe.  That bridge has been struck by trucks 32 times in the past few years.  The bridge, built in 1926,  has just a 12-foot clearance.

Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley
Sign near William and Metcalfe CSX railroad bridge indicates 12-foot clearance

Schumer is calling on the U.S. Department of Transportation to conduct an investigation.  He wants national standards to be issued in the use of GPS units in commercial trucks.

“These accidents are frequent, costly, dangerous and entirely avoidable,” said Schumer. “All the information we need to prevent these accidents is available and all we have to do is make sure it gets into the hands of the truck driver. If we have the technology to send a truck to Mars, we have the technology to prevent trucks from crashing into bridges here in Western New York.”

Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer at William and Metcalfe in Buffalo Thursday pointing to low clearance at CSX railroad bridge

“As a distribution and logistics company we see firsthand the problems caused by the lack of a national standard for commercial GPS units,” said James Manno, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Sonwil Distribution Center Inc.

“Many professional trucking companies outfit their trucks with commercial GPS units to avoid these types of collisions. However, many independent operators do not and drivers use non-commercial devices such as a personal GPS, or a smartphone. These devices are often unaware of which routes include low clearance bridges. That’s why Senator Schumer’s push for a national standard is so important – it can help prevent costly, time consuming, and most importantly dangerous collisions between trucks and overpasses.”

A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter appears below:

Dear Secretary LaHood,

I write to urge you to investigate the dramatic increase in low bridge strikes by commercial trucks across New York State as a result of the growing use of Global Positioning Technology (GPS) by drivers.  As a staunch advocate for safe roads and safe driving practices, I know you will be alarmed to learn that GPS-related bridge strikes in New York now represent over 80% of all such accidents.  Despite the great efforts of the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) to increase signage and develop new alert systems for drivers over the past number of years, reports from local police organizations continue to fault the reliance on basic GPS technology as the main culprit in many of these low-bridge commercial truck accidents. These accidents represent a great nuisance for the public and the taxpayer, as they continue to increase the cost of bridge repairs, clog up our roadways, and increase the potential of catastrophe in the event of a hazardous spill. As such, I implore the Department and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to investigate this problem and consider developing new federal standards for the use of GPS technology in commercial truck travel.

New York State is a unique target for GPS-related accidents. As you may know, commercial truck traffic is prohibited on New York State Parkways like Lake Ontario State Parkway and the Robert Moses State Parkway in Western New York. Railroad bridge overpasses constructed over those networks were built, in some cases, over eighty years ago and at artificially low heights. Despite the fact that on many of these roads there exists a plethora of warning and directional signs alerting commercial drivers not to use these parkways, basic GPS technology does not heed these messages and funnels massive freight trucks into a major danger zone. According to a recent NYSDOT study, about 200 bridge accidents per year have occurred in New York State since 2005. 

The lack of a coherent policy with respect to GPS equipment in commercial trucking operations comes at no small cost. Moreover, the State has spent $3 million for 300 new bridge warning signs and efforts to educate truck drivers in the past five years. Finally, the State’s Bridge Strike Mitigation Task Force has engaged GPS companies to implement technical changes to address the problem as well. Unfortunately, however, the scourge of accidents continue.

Therefore, I again urge you to use your authority under existing federal safety laws and the available resources at the Department’s disposal to investigate this matter and issue a set of recommended federal standards to address the problem.