Officials: GPS behind truck parkway crashes

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) seeks a probe into incidents of trucks striking bridges, as happened recently on LI, and presses for new national standards for GPS devices in trucks to help avoid such collisions. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (Sept. 24, 2012)

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Global positioning systems inadvertently steer trucks on to parkways and are responsible for 81 percent of bridge and overpass strikes in New York State, officials say.

The state Department of Transportation has spent an estimated $7 million tackling bridge strikes on Long Island alone over the past five years -- including $4.1 million for major repairs to five bridges, installing about 300 new bridge clearance and warning signs, and flashing beacons, and conducting educational outreach to trucking firms and GPS software manufacturers.

Monday, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called for the U.S. Department of Transportation to investigate the issue and consider national standards for GPS use in trucks. Schumer said he wrote federal Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to highlight the "shocking regularity with which trucks are striking overpasses after being led onto roads they shouldn't be on."

"These accidents are frequent, costly, dangerous and entirely avoidable," he said.

Justin Nisley, a department spokesman, said Schumer's letter was being reviewed. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration encourages truckers who use GPS navigation tools to choose truck-oriented GPS navigation systems that take into account routing restrictions for large trucks, rather than the more basic GPS systems available for passenger cars, he said.

Out-of-state drivers unfamiliar with the parkway system in the Northeast are behind most of the bridge strikes, according to State Police and trucking industry representatives interviewed during the past month.

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According to data from the NYSDOT, 81 percent of overpass strikes by commercial vehicles are caused by GPS guidance.

An effort initiated by former Gov. David A. Paterson in October 2009 to mandate the more sophisticated -- and expensive -- GPS system that would provide a height-sensitive route and keep trucks off prohibited parkways failed to gain traction after opposition from the trucking industry and because one state cannot mandate requirements on interstate commerce.

Schumer acknowledged that at a news conference he held on a grass embankment before the Eagle Avenue overpass on the eastbound Southern State Parkway in Hempstead Monday. "You would have to do it at the federal level," he said as cars whizzed by.

The overpass, with a posted clearance of 7 feet, 7 inches, is the most frequently truck-struck overpass on Long Island, according to a recent state report. It has been struck 27 times by trucks on the roadway illegally between 1993 and mid-2010.Truck-specific GPS software units sell for about $500, said NYS Motor Truck Association executive director Kendra Adams, who said her organization was not opposed to better regulation. However, she added, Paterson's proposed legislation had unfairly targeted New York-based truckers whom officials acknowledged were not the heart of the problem.

Under Paterson, a bridge strike mitigation task force was set up that combined the efforts of NYSDOT, State Police and the New York City DOT, with representatives from Westchester County and Long Island, the two most affected areas in the state, to try to find solutions. An enforcement blitz conducted for one week in 2009 alone resulted in some 400 tickets being issued, most to out-of-state drivers using noncommercial GPS devices.

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