Are you using the right GPS navigation system?


A truck – a bridge – a crash. It’s not difficult to find examples of over-height loads colliding with bridges these days. The Internet is full of them – including one site (11foot8.com) that records crashes at one particularly susceptible railroad overpass in Durham, N.C., that was hit 13 times in 13 months despite warning signs and flashing lights. 

One key reason for such crashes is the use of GPS systems not designed for commercial drivers. 

In March 2013, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced new standards for the use of such systems. “A typical system that a consumer might buy may not have software programming to show low bridges, hazmat routes and other information relevant to commercial motor vehicle operators,” it states on its website.

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FMCSA offers a visor card to remind drivers of the proper use of GPS navigation that includes the following tips:

  • Select a GPS navigation system intended for use by professional truck and bus drivers.
  • Before you begin your trip, type in all relevant information about your vehicle so the system can provide you with the appropriate route, including:

o   Your vehicle’s length, width and height.
o   Your axle weights.
o   Hazardous materials you are transporting.

  • Follow the route recommended by the navigation system.
  • Always obey traffic signs and advisories (such as low bridge overpasses, axle weight limits, etc.), especially if they provide restrictions the navigation system did not warn you about.
  • Do not engage in distracted driving. Avoid typing or entering addresses or information into the GPS while driving.
  • Not all GPS systems automatically update maps — be sure to update your maps often so that you are following the most current route planning information. 

In announcing the new standards, Senator Charles Schumer of New York said police data in the state showed that 80 percent of bridge strikes were caused by the improper use of GPS systems. 

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The Indiana Department of Transportation, meanwhile, reported in August 2013 that hundreds of bridge strikes happen every year, including one bridge in downtown Indianapolis that has been hit 70 times in about seven years. At the time, the department said it had collected about $4 million for bridge damage this year, including one bill for more than $107,000. 

The ramifications of a bridge strike can be very serious. A state of emergency was declared in Washington after the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River near Seattle collapsed in May 2013 after being hit by a permitted oversized load. Under federal law, the maximum penalty for failing to comply with a posted route restriction, such as bridge height, is $11,000 for a company and $2,750 for the driver. 

Legal action was expected against the trucking company involved in the Washington crash. As state officials pointed out at the time, despite the permit and a history of this bridge being struck due to the angled construction of its overhead structure, the trucking company is ultimately responsible for the safety of the load. 

Related: The Safety Wizard: How Behavior-Based Programs Eliminate Accidents

The accident exposed the company to plenty of risks, including injuries and damage to other vehicles. Not to mention the replacement cost of the collapsed span – about $15 million.


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