Bridge Strikes A Serious Hazard For Truck Drivers

We’ve all seen the photos. Crumbled cabs, dented beams, cracked concrete, and traffic backed up for miles. Bridge strikes by commercial vehicles do massive damage to infrastructure every year. What can drivers and regulators do to prevent them?


Bridge Strikes In The News

On June 26, a truck struck a bridge in downtown Houston. The driver went to the hospital, the collision damaged the bridge’s beams, and officials shut down the roadway, stranding drivers during their morning commute.

On July 30, a boom truck struck a rail bridge in Pennsauken, NJ because the driver didn’t know the boom was extended. Inspectors determined that the tracks sustained extensive damage. They suspended rail service for two weeks.

On August 31, a truck got stuck under a train bridge in Ann Arbor, MI. The driver thought he could make it under the bridge’s 10-foot-6 clearance level. He couldn’t.

Bridge strikes have been a problem since the dawn of motor vehicles. But the widespread adoption of GPS led to new headaches for regulators and communities with low-clearance bridges and tunnels.


The Dangers Of GPS 

On March 11, 2013, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) began issuing official recommendations to commercial truck drivers about the proper use of GPS devices. They also incorporated GPS training into entry-level certification programs for commercial motor vehicle operators.

The FMCSA doesn’t track statistics on the number of bridge strikes caused by GPS devices. But in 2013, New York Senator Charles E. Schumer claimed that GPS devices cause 80% of bridge strikes.


One reason this is such a problem is because not all GPS units are created equal. Some models are designed only for ordinary passenger vehicles. A commercial truck driver using one of these models won’t necessarily have access to information about low bridge overpasses.

Truck drivers using GPS must ensure that they’re using a model designed specifically for commercial trucks and buses.

But simply purchasing the correct GPS device isn’t enough. Truck drivers also must input their vehicle’s length, width, and axle weights into the unit. Drivers must also make sure that the maps in their GPS are up-to-date. Not all units update their maps automatically.


Human Error

But GPS units don’t cause all bridge strikes.

There are countless cases of drivers who were either unaware of the height of their vehicles, or who were fully aware yet chose to try to squeeze under a low bridge, anyway.

There are also cases of fatigued or inattentive boom truck and dump truck drivers not realizing that the vehicle’s equipment was extended or raised.

But while greater attentiveness can prevent most bridge strikes, there is no one solution for preventing them all.

Booms and beds can extend while a truck is moving due to a mechanical malfunction. Beyond remaining vigilant and staying up-to-date on vehicle maintenance, there is little drivers can do to prevent these rare occurrences.

Will bridge strikes ever go away completely? The rise of autonomous vehicles could be a game changer. But as long as there are human beings behind the wheel, these news stories are likely going to keep on coming.







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