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After Dramatic Increase of Low Bridge Strikes Due to Misused GPS Devices in New York State, Schumer Called for Enhanced Federal Oversight to Reduce Life Threatening Truck and Bus Accidents

Schumer Announces Feds to Begin New GPS Training For New Truck and Bus Drivers and Will Distribute GPS Safety Visor Cards to Industry

New Training and Safety Visor Cards Will Warn Commercial Drivers to Never Use Non- Commercial GPS Devices That May Route Large Trucks and Buses into Collisions with Low-Clearance Overpasses and Bridges

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that, after his initial push in September of last year and months of work with regulators and trucking organizations, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will begin issuing official recommendations to members of the commercial trucking industry on the proper uses of Global Positioning System (GPS) devices and incorporate GPS training into new entry-level certification programs for commercial motor vehicle operators. This means that commercial drivers will be trained, and reminded, to only use GPS systems designed specifically for the industry.  These specialized units take into account the specifics of the truck they’re in – including the height, weight and contents - and will then route the trucks onto appropriate roads.  The consumer GPS units too often being used are frequently routing trucks onto inappropriate roads, causing them to crash into low overpasses and bridges.


In September, Schumer called on the Department of Transportation (DOT) to investigate the dramatic increase in low bridge strikes by commercial trucks across New York State as a result of the growing use of GPS by drivers. According to reports from local police organizations, GPS-related bridge strikes in New York represent over 80 percent of all such accidents. Schumer has been working with the DOT on investigating this problem and today, alongside FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro, announced that major steps are being taken to address GPS-related bridge strikes.


Schumer and Administrator Ferro stood at the Eagle Avenue overpass, which spans the Southern State Parkway at exit 18.  The overpass has been struck at least 27 times by trucks that are prohibited from driving on the parkway. Schumer revealed the details of this national campaign to reduce low-bridge strikes through new training and safety visor cards. According to a 2009 study, 80 percent of bridge strikes in New York State are caused by misused GPS devices, and the accidents, in addition to being life threatening, cause massive delays and impose significant costs on taxpayers. Schumer said there was more work to be done, but this was a very significant step towards improving safety and reducing these accidents.  The new GPS training would be proposed as a component of a federal rulemaking for entry-level commercial driver license (CDL) certification later this year.


“These education and training campaigns for 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 with increasing frequency in recent years,” said Schumer. “These steps will help to once again make GPS devices an asset to drivers, and not a dangerously misused tool. 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 across Long Island. Thank you to FMCSA Administrator Ferro for recognizing the importance of this serious issue and for implementing a proactive approach towards teaching the industry how to eliminate GPS-related accidents.”


"Even one truck or bus striking an overpass is one too many, which is why we're taking action to ensure professional truck and bus drivers know the importance of selecting the right navigation system," said FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro.


Commercial truck traffic is prohibited on New York State Parkways such as the Southern and Northern State Parkways on Long Island, the Hutchinson and Saw Mill Parkways in the Hudson Valley, and the FDR and Bronx River Parkway in New York City.  Overpasses constructed over these parkways were built, in some cases, over 50 years ago, and at low heights. Although these parkways consist of numerous warning and directional signs alerting commercial drivers of the dangers, basic GPS devices often do not show these restrictions and funnel trucks into major danger zones. According to a recent NYS Department of Transportation study, over 200 bridge accidents per year have occurred in New York since 2005. Of that total, over 25 percent of these accidents occurred in Nassau, Suffolk or Westchester counties. Major repairs on the Long Island Expressway connected to these types of accidents have cost taxpayers $4.1million in recent years, according to the NYS Department of Transportation.


Schumer stood at the Eagle Avenue Overpass, along the Southern State Parkway, in September of 2012 and called on the federal Department of Transportation to investigate low bridge strikes by commercial truck drivers and asked the agency to issue nationwide standards for GPS devices.


Schumer today announced that after his push, the FMCSA, within the federal Department of Transportation, will implement a two-step solution to address low bridge strikes by commercial trucks as a result of GPS devices. First, FMSCA will begin distributing official recommendations which will prescribe to the industry how to use GPS devices in commercial motor vehicles. The recommendations will be issued in brochures and flyers and will be distributed to operators throughout the region. For example, tips will include recommendations to select professional grade navigation systems, instructions to input the size, axle weight and other important details of the commercial truck into the GPS, and important tips on avoiding distracted driving.

Second, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) required that FMCSA finish a new entry-level certification program for commercial motor vehicle operators. As part of this new rulemaking, FMSCA agreed to include a GPS training component in response to the dramatic increase in low-bridge strikes. Schumer today made the case that FMCSA’s new recommendations and GPS training program are good steps towards addressing this serious issue and he is hopeful that it will reduce the cost imposed on taxpayers and prevent any more deadly accidents from occurring.


The provision in MAP-21 prioritizes a rulemaking FMCSA began in 2007 to revise the standards for mandatory training requirements for entry-level operators of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) in interstate operations who are required to possess a commercial driver’s license (CDL).  Once the rule goes into effect, persons applying for new or upgraded CDLs would be required to successfully complete specified minimum classroom and behind-the-wheel training from an accredited institution or program. This rule would strengthen FMCSA’s entry-level driver training requirements as a means to enhance the safety of CMV operations on our Nation’s highways and is set to be put out for notice in the coming months.


The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) was established within the Department of Transportation on January 1, 2000, pursuant to the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's primary mission is to prevent commercial motor vehicle-related fatalities and injuries. Activities of the Administration contribute to ensuring safety in motor carrier operations through strong enforcement of safety regulations; targeting high-risk carriers and commercial motor vehicle drivers; improving safety information systems and commercial motor vehicle technologies; strengthening commercial motor vehicle equipment and operating standards; and increasing safety awareness. To accomplish these activities, the Administration works with Federal, State, and local enforcement agencies, the motor carrier industry, labor safety interest groups, and others. Schumer applauded their attention to this issue, which fits squarely with their mission.


A copy of Schumer’s original September 24th letter is below:


Dear Secretary LaHood,


I write to urge you to investigate the dramatic increase in low bridge strikes by commercial trucks across New York State as a result of the growing use of Global Positioning Technology (GPS) by drivers.  As a staunch advocate for safe roads and safe driving practices, I know you will be alarmed to learn that GPS-related bridge strikes in New York now represent over 80% of all such accidents.  Despite the great efforts of the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) to increase signage and develop new alert systems for drivers over the past number of years, reports from local police organizations continue to fault the reliance on basic GPS technology as the main culprit in many of these low-bridge commercial truck accidents.  These accidents represent a great nuisance for the public and the taxpayer, as they continue to increase the cost of bridge repairs, clog up our roadways, and increase the potential of catastrophe in the event of a hazardous spill. As such, I implore the Department to investigate this problem and consider developing new federal standards for the use of GPS technology in commercial truck travel.


New York State, particularly in the downstate suburbs of Westchester, Rockland, Nassau and Suffolk, is a unique target for GPS-related accidents.  As you may know, commercial truck traffic is prohibited on New York State Parkways like the Southern and Northern State on Long Island and the Hutchinson and Saw Mill Parkways in the Hudson River Valley.  Road bridge overpasses constructed over those networks were built, in some cases, over 50 years ago and at artificially low heights.  Despite the fact that on many of these roads there exists a plethora of warning and directional signs alerting commercial drivers not to use these parkways, basic GPS technology does not heed these messages and funnels massive freight trucks into a major danger zone.  According to a recent NYSDOT study, about 200 bridge accidents per year have occurred in New York State since 2005.  Of that total, over 25% of those accidents occur in Nassau, Suffolk or Westchester counties. 


The lack of a coherent policy with respect to GPS equipment in commercial trucking operations comes at no small cost.  According to NYSDOT, major repairs on the Long Island Expressway connected to these accidents cost taxpayers $4.1 million alone.  Moreover, the State has spent $3 million for 300 new bridge warning signs and efforts to educate truck drivers in the past five years.  Finally, the State’s Bridge Strike Mitigation Task Force has engaged GPS companies to implement technical changes to address the problem as well.  Unfortunately, however, the scourge of accidents continue. 


Therefore, I again urge you to use your authority under existing federal safety laws and the available resources at the Department’s disposal to investigate this matter and issue a set of recommended federal standards to address the problem. 


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