Reducing Bridge Strikes in the United States

April 16th, 2014 | Cobra Electronics | Chicago, IL

Nearly all state governments cite bridge strikes as an issue. The graphic illustrates that most report it to be a major issue (the red states), while the green states report it to be minor issue.

The yellow states yielded no response. The figure also includes the number of bridge strikes counted from 2005-2008.

“Off the shelf global positioning systems may be the cause [of increased bridge strikes], said Sean McNally, spokesperson at the American Trucking Associations. “We’re not seeing increases in truck sizes or weights. McNally said in dismissing other factors, “Sometimes trucks wander where they are not supposed to go.”

Consumer devices do not take into consideration truck load dimensions while navigating and oftentimes route large trucks through residential neighborhoods and low-clearance bridges.

Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York found that the cause of up to 80 percent of the bridge strikes in New York were connected to a GPS issue.

The bridge strike increase prompted U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer to propose government regulations for Commercial Motor Vehicles based on the high threat to public safety and the high cost to taxpayers.

Threats to public safety:

Senator Schumer outlined several public dangers and provided an estimated cost to taxpayers in his original letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, addressing the Bridge Strike problem. Highlights from the letter included:

“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 a catastrophe in the event of a hazardous spill”

“NYSDOT calculates repairs on the Long Island Expressway connected to bridge strikes is $4.1 million alone, in addition to the state spending $3 million for 300 new bridge warning signs and on efforts to educate drivers for the past 5 years.”

A U.S. Department of Transportation article addressing bridge strikes states, “While some of these strikes have been seen to cause serious damage to bridges, a majority of bridge strikes create significant threat to public safety and cause severe congestions because of the truck being stuck under the bridge or cargo littering over the roadway.”

The Regulations:

The DOT article explained an approach by a few states to implement laser-based detection systems at the bridge to recognize when a truck is over the bridge height. These systems can be costly—up to $10,000 per bridge.

The article determined the best way to prevent the occurrence of bridge strikes is “regulatory (enforcement); technological (prohibiting the use of consumer GPS by truck drivers); and educational (continuing education course related to bridge strikes).”

Schumer’s call for regulations included the issuance of an official set of GPS guidelines by the Federal Government and to incorporate GPS training into the mandatory education that those applying for their Commercial Drivers License must pass. Both regulations were passed and the training is included in the MAP-21 ruling signed by President Obama.

MAP-21

“On July 6, 2012, President Obama signed into law P.L. 112-141, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). MAP-21 is the first long-term highway authorization enacted since 2005.” Part of MAP includes adding training programs on how to use a gps correctly.

The following visor card is an example of the federal regulations resulting from Senator Schumer’s efforts. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued official recommendations of GPS systems. More information can be found on the FMCSA website.

“These steps will help to once again make GPS devices an asset to drivers, and not a dangerously misused tool,” said Schumer.