Today, at the corner of William Street and Metcalfe Street in Buffalo, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to conduct an investigation into the dramatic increase in low bridge strikes by commercial trucks in Western New York and across New York State, and issue nationwide standards for Global Positioning System (GPS) devices in trucks. Western New York has experienced hundreds of these bridge strikes in the past decade. Schumer pointed to the shocking regularity with which trucks are striking overpasses after being led by GPS devices onto roads they shouldn't be on, and will note that no rules govern the use of such devices in commercial vehicles. The absence of standards results in many situations where trucks use GPS devices that do not differentiate between roads on which trucks are allowed and on which they are not. Trucks are often led onto roads that do not legally allow such vehicles, or that they cannot pass, causing them to collide with the low overpasses.
"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."
"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 collusions between trucks and overpasses."
Schumer was joined by James Manno of Sonwil Distribution who attested to the problems caused by the lack of a national standard for commercial GPS units, and stood at a CSX-owned overpass as he announced his push for tougher regulations. The overpass, built in 1926, was struck a total of 32 times as of 2011 by trucks, while an even older overpass just down the road was struck 48 times. Commercial truck traffic is prohibited on New York State Parkways such as the Robert Moses State Parkway from Niagara Falls to Porter. Overpasses constructed over these parkways, along with railroad overpasses that crisscross Buffalo, were built, in some cases, over eighty years ago, and at low heights. Although these overpasses feature numerous warnings and directional signs alerting commercial drivers of the dangers, basic GPS devices often do not show these restrictions and they funnel trucks into major danger zones.
According to a recent NYS Department of Transportation study, over 200 bridge accidents per year have occurred in New York since 2005. According to a 2009 study, 80% of bridge strikes are caused by misused GPS devices. Schumer noted that these accidents, in addition to being life threatening, cause massive delays and impose significant costs on taxpayers. Although many bridge strikes go unreported, Western New York has experienced 213 reported bridge strikes since between 1993 and 2011, with 196 of these crashes occurring in Erie County. Schumer highlighted that more often than not, GPS and even navigation devices on truck drivers' personal smart phones are to blame.
Within the past 18 months alone, significant damages and delays were caused in Western New York due to trucks striking a bridge on I-190 and the New York State Thruway as well as local streets in Buffalo, including Walden Avenue near MLK Jr. Park, Colvin Boulevard near Delaware Park and Fillmore Avenue. The bridge passing over Colvin Boulevard, with a 9' 1" inch clearance was hit in September, 2011 by a 13" truck. The bridge hits have not only caused major traffic delays, but more importantly they led to significant damage to the trucks and local infrastructure. James Manno also helped highlight that such strikes can have a negative impact on commerce and the transport of goods, which are important to businesses in Western New York.
Schumer today called on The Department of Transportation to investigate these low bridge strikes by commercial truck drivers to determine more about their root cause. Schumer is also asking the Department of Transportation to issue nation-wide standards for GPS devices in order to ensure that trucks no longer rely exclusively on GPS units that are not programmed with information that will lead them into dangerous situations. Schumer made the case that new standards on GPS devices would reduce the cost imposed on taxpayers and prevent any deadly accidents from occurring.
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.