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New GPS standards aim to prevent truckers from colliding with low bridges

Written by Steve Gursten Posted April 3rd, 2013

The FMCSA has introduced GPS and  training requirements for new truck drivers to avoid “low-bridge” collisions, where GPS routes don’t account for overhead clearance


Photo by Kim Scarborough/Creative Commons

The latest truck collision with an overhead “low bridge” that made the news was in New York, where a truck driver was hauling his load as he attempted to pass under an overhead bridge. The trucker certainly found out the hard way that the overpass was too low. There was not enough clearance and the top of the tractor-trailer stuck the bridge and was badly damaged.

Fortunately, nobody was hurt in the New York crash. But these types of trucking accidents happen countless times every year. And now there is a new device that might make these types of truck collisions far less common.

By way of background, our own attorneys have litigated enough of these truck accident cases to know how badly people can get hurt in these kinds of crashes, even when a passenger car is not involved. Often it is flying debris from the collision or an innocent motorist who was behind a truck that is injured or killed. And there is the added risk of an innocent traveling on the bridge overhead. Thankfully, this was not the case in New York, and no one was injured or killed by the  impact; otherwise this news is story would be much different.

But these types of stories don’t need to happen at all. There’s new technology that could prevent these overpass truck accidents. And this new technology has caught the attention of the Federal Motor Safety Carrier Administration (FMCSA).

New regulations were announced in March by the FMCSA to address the issue. Essentially, the new regulations standardize GPS requirements so that GPS systems used by truck drivers and trucking companies account for critical route restrictions, such as low bridges or special hazardous materials routes, for example.

The recommendations inform truck drivers and truck companies on which GPS models are adequate. A truck driver can input information in these GPS systems such as the truck’s dimensions (including height), weight, and whether or not the load is a hazardous material. Based on the user inputs, these specialized GPS devices will formulate a safe route.

These kinds of collisions are still all too common. And we have discussed crashes like this before regarding cargo securement and weight. The truck driver explained that he was simply following his GPS, which directed him to use that road and proceed under the overpass. Although there is no excuse for this trucker hitting the bridge, this accident begs the question if more could have been done to prevent it from happening. There were warnings painted on the road surface which read “Low Bridge – No Trucks.” This warning was not enough.

In addition to the regulations which will be distributed to truck drivers and carriers, the federal agency will also have a mandatory entry-level certification program for  commercial truck drivers. The new regulations extend to buses and other motor coaches as well.

Senator Charles Schumer, a staunch advocate for stronger regulations to prevent bridge strikes, weighed in on the new announcements in New York:

“These brand new federal standards for GPS-use among commercial truck drivers will be the first major steps to thwarting life-threatening bridge strikes that have been causing massive delays and imposing significant costs on taxpayers for far too long. I am pleased that the DOT heeded my call for reforms and I am confident that the combination of official recommendations and GPS-training will limit the number of low bridge strikes.”

This seems very promising. Hopefully truck drivers and the operating companies will heed these recommendations, and overpass truck accidents can be prevented.

Here is more information on the FMCSA GPS recommendations.

Steven Gursten Photo

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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