Bridge strikes: GPS training for drivers

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) addresses a news U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) addresses a news conference in Washington. (July 25, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Truckers and bus drivers will have to complete global-positioning system training as part of new commercial driver licensing requirements -- one of several measures being developed by federal safety officials to prevent oversized vehicles from hitting bridges and overpasses.

Newsday in September reported trucks are hitting bridges on Long Island's state roads dozens of times a year, creating $7 million in repair and maintenance costs in the past five years as well as traffic headaches. The most recent New York State Department of Transportation figures show 255 bridge strikes occurred in 2012, including 67 on Long Island, 56 of which were on parkways.

"Technology has caused this problem -- the authorities believe as many as 80 percent of bridge hits are caused by truckers who rely on GPS and who don't have a commercial device that asks them their truck height and keeps them routed off roads where they shouldn't be," Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday at the Eagle Avenue overpass at Exit 18 eastbound on the Southern State Parkway, one of the Island's most frequently hit bridges.

He and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration administrator Anne Ferro announced the new safeguard regulations.

Schumer said he wants the GPS training, being developed by the motor carrier association, required for all commercial license applicants. For those licensed, the administration is distributing a new safety card -- attachable to a vehicle's sun visor -- warning against using noncommercial GPS units designed for cars and instructing how to select, program and safely use commercial-grade devices.

The GPS issue will be part of a broader regulatory overview of commercial driver's license requirements, Ferro said in an interview. There are no national requirements for any specific type of training to obtain a commercial license.

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"We'll be addressing that, with proposed guidelines we hope to finalize early next year," Ferro said.

But the problem of trucks on parkways is "a wholly avoidable and preventable incident," she said.

In the past six months, the New York DOT has painted new pavement markings and added extra signage on some roads on Long Island, and in New York City and the Hudson Valley, to address the problem.

A January 2012 DOT study found about 200 bridge strikes occurred in the state each year since 2005, mainly from trucks illegally on state parkways where older bridges tend to be lower.

Of those hits, about a quarter were on Long Island. Westchester County's Hutchinson River Parkway incurred more than any other parkway in the region, according to the report.

The federal analysis called for additional study and possibly limits on truck and bus drivers' use of basic retail GPS units that, unlike more sophisticated and expensive commercial versions, do not specify bridge heights or identify routes where commercial traffic is banned.

State police, transportation officials and trucking industry representatives have said many trucks that enter parkways are driven from other states by drivers unfamiliar with the area and unaware they are prohibited on parkways.

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