Bridges vulnerable to trucks misuse of GPS

Many of the most widely known trucking accidents and collisions implicate culprits such as weight/capacity for large trucks and/or drivers’ failure to notice traffic control devices intended specifically for trucks. But blaming capacity or drivers’ inattention isn’t always to blame: one issue not often discussed is how truck drivers’ reliance on smartphone technology introduces a novel safety concern.

Buffalo, NY’s NPR affiliate WBF 88.7 FM recently published an article about how truck drivers are consistently colliding into one particular bridge in close proximity to the CSX Railroad overpass at William and Metcalf. According to NY Senator Chuck Schumer, that one bridge has been struck by truckers over 30 times in the last few years. The bridge’s low 12-ft clearance is likely due to the fact that it was built in 1926. To solve the problem, it is not necessary to alter the clearance: in calling for a Dept. of Transportation-lead investigation into the issue, Schumer’s suggests that national standards governing GPS technology usage should be implemented for all commercial trucking.

“These accidents are frequent, costly, dangerous and entirely avoidable,” said Schumer. “All the information we need to prevent these accidents is available and all we have to do is make sure it gets into the hands of the truck driver. If we have the technology to send a truck to Mars, we have the technology to prevent trucks from crashing into bridges here in Western New York.” (Source: Buckley, Eileen (Oct 25, 2012) Buffalo’s NPR News Station; retrieved from http://news.wbfo.org/post/schumer-says-too-many-trucks-are-striking-overpasses)

As indicated in the NPR article, James Manno – VP of Sales and Marketing at Sonwil Distribution Center, Inc. identifies the independent trucking companies for their failure to outfit their drivers with commercial GPS technology capable of detecting low-clearance bridges. Manno suggests that the use (or rather, misuse) of personal/non-commercial smartphones by independent companies simply isn’t able to alert drivers of these kinds of approaching obstacles. It’s not enough for truck drivers to rely on Google Maps or Google Navigation: the software is not capable of providing alerts based on realtime data such as the dimensions of the vehicle and/or the height of nearby bridges.

We would hope that a federal investigation (assuming Schumer’s call to action obtains) into GPS related trucking collisions would yield insight into not only the frequency of these events, but also the percentage of commercial trucking companies’ misappropriating personal GPS technology in the manner Manno suggests. Knowing this kind of national trend data would significantly inform the decision as to whether national standards governing GPS usage within the trucking industry is as justified as Senator Schumer suspects.

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