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Editorial: Jack up fines for trucks that hit parkway overpasses

A tractor-trailer hit the Cantiague Rock Road bridge

A tractor-trailer hit the Cantiague Rock Road bridge on the Northern State Parkway eastbound at Cantiague Rock Road. The top of the trailer sheared off. but there were no injuries reported at the scene. (April 1, 2013) Credit: Jim Staubitser

You'd think getting professional drivers to stop slamming trucks into New York State parkway overpasses would be easy.

In fact, trucks hit Long Island's low-slung overpasses four times in April alone. The state Department of Transportation spent about $7 million addressing bridge and overpass strikes on Long Island in the past five years, $4 million of it on major repairs, and the rest for about 300 bridge clearance and warning signs, flashing beacons and educational outreach. Yet the hits keep coming, albeit more slowly than in the past. The incidence of commercial trucks entering parkways is down about 50 percent since 2010, and more in the first two months of this year, but bridge strikes haven't dropped as much.

The problem is mostly caused by commercial drivers from out of state using noncommercial global positioning systems. According to the DOT, 81 percent of the strikes occur when drivers follow incorrect GPS advice. Proposals to pass state laws to fix the problem haven't gained steam, largely because New York's commercial drivers already know better than to take trucks on the parkways, and Albany can't regulate other states' drivers. A suggested federal rule forcing all truckers to use commercial GPS, though, seems a little heavy-handed.

But some things can be done. The state does claw back the cost of bridge repairs and crash cleanup from trucking companies, but that doesn't help thousands of motorists who face aggravation and lose time in traffic jams. The fine for driving a truck on a parkway is $150, and another $150 for hitting an overpass. That must go up tremendously, to perhaps $5,000, to create buzz among truckers nationwide and persuade them to avoid the parkways. Also try laser sensors to alert drivers that their vehicles are too tall, and, if it can be done safely, try breakaway "headache bars."

It's time for smart solutions to conquer this dumb problem.