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AAA: Commercial GPS could have helped in bus crash

The bus that hit the Eagle Avenue overpass

The bus that hit the Eagle Avenue overpass on the eastbound Southern State Parkway in the impound at the NYS Police Troop L Headquarters in Farmingdale on Monday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Commercial GPS systems are not mandatory — and are often not used — by truck and charter bus companies, despite advanced technology which could potentially have prevented Sunday’s parkway bus crash.

Commercial-grade GPS devices require the driver to type in the height, weight and length of their vehicle, along with any hazardous materials in tow, to avoid restricted roadways.

Commercial trucking officials have lobbied against more regulations, saying the devices are not always updated with the latest roadway conditions.

“Commercial GPS is not a fail-safe,” said Kendra Hems, president of the Trucking Association of New York.

But Alec Slatky, a policy liaison with AAA Northeast, said such a device could have prevented the crash on the Southern State Parkway.

“These systems are needed to ensure that commercial drivers, particularly those from out of state, stay off prohibited roadways,” Slatky said.

In 2017, oversized vehicles were responsible for 147 crashes on Nassau and Suffolk roadways, including 18 with injuries, according to the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research.

Troy Gaston, the bus driver who crashed into the overpass Sunday, was using a passenger vehicle GPS system, which requires only a starting point and destination. Buses and tractor trailers are prohibited from the Southern State, which has several low crossings.

Gaston has not been charged in the crash, which left dozens of students returning from a trip to Europe injured. Gaston and the Irvington, New Jersey-based Journey Bus Lines, the bus operator, did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday. The State Police are still investigating the crash.

In 2009, Gov. David A. Paterson proposed legislation to require large trucks and buses to use commercial GPS devices, but the measure died in committee. Industry officials opposed the bill, citing the cost of GPS systems, which range from $150 to $500, and that it would not apply to out-of-state drivers.

While the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates the trucking and bus industry, recommends the use of commercial navigation tools, the devices are not required, said agency spokesman Duane DeBruyne.

The agency instead trains all new drivers to use commercial GPS devices and distributes visor cards with tips on how to use the systems, he said.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who called for commercial GPS devices to be mandatory after a 2012 crash at the same overpass, said the education tools are insufficient.

“This driver should never have been using the Southern State and the equipment — the GPS system — was available to tell him that,” Schumer said at a news conference Monday.

Peter Pantuso, president of the American Bus Association, a Washington-based lobbying and advocacy group for the motor coach industry, said while most large charter companies utilize commercial GPS, there is no data on their usage.

Darrin Roth, vice president of highway policy at the American Trucking Association, said if a commercial driver is going to use GPS, it should be commercial-grade. But the group opposes a federal mandate.

“Where is the oversight to make sure that the devices are updated?” Roth asked.

The Trucking Association of New York does not oppose the use of commercial navigation tools, but “we need to get away from using them as a crutch,” Hems said. “We should be using multiple resources to figure out routes.”

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