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Technology and fines can help stop parkway overpass hits

New York State Police on scene of bus

New York State Police on scene of bus accident on the Southern State Parkway Sunday night. Credit: Jim Staubitser

Had the coach bus that struck an overpass Sunday night been just a bit taller, or the overpass on the Southern State Parkway a bit lower, we could be dealing with a terrible tragedy.

The vehicles that usually strike Long Island parkway overpasses are trucks with drivers unfamiliar with the more picturesque construction of another era. A state Department of Transportation study concluded 81 percent of such strikes are due to incorrect GPS advice. The last one the editorial page wrote about, in May 2013, was a tractor trailer that hit the Cantiague Rock Road bridge on the Northern State Parkway.

Passenger buses, often driven by locals, are less frequently a problem. But the driver from Sunday hails from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and said he just didn’t know — and didn’t see the signs. There were 38 students, five chaperones and a driver on that bus. There were significant injuries and trauma, but thankfully all people aboard survived.

The overpass hits need to stop. There are warning signs along parkway entrances and the roads themselves. And the state has been installing an electronic system to warn drivers at some vulnerable Northern and Southern state parkway entrances if their vehicles are too high.

But there are also inexpensive commercial GPS systems that should be required, along with databases that enhance navigation systems programmed with warnings about every low overpass in the nation. One variety can be purchased, with free lifetime updates, for less than $50. Commercial insurance policies should demand these and refuse to pay claims when vehicles lack them. And fines for such strikes should be so high, no transportation company owner would risk them.

The next time a bus hits an overpass, the passengers might not be so lucky. So it’s time to prevent a next time.