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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 24, 2012

SCHUMER: IMPROPERLY USED GPS DEVICES CAUSING DOZENS OF TRUCKS TO HIT OVERPASSES IN WESTCHESTER EACH YEAR – WILL CALL FOR INVESTIGATION INTO CAUSE OF PROBLEM, AND FOR NATIONAL STANDARDS FOR GPS



In Addition to Being Potentially Life Threatening, Bridge Strikes Cause Massive Delays and Impose Significant Costs on Taxpayers

Hundreds of Trucks Have Hit Highway Overpasses in Previous Years – Many Trucks Led onto Parkways by Misused GPS Systems

Schumer Will Call for Department of Transportation to Conduct Investigation Into Frequent Bridge Strikes Nationwide and Issue Standards for GPS and to Reduce Costly Bridge Strike Accidents

 

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to conduct an investigation into the dramatic increase in low bridge strikes by commercial trucks across New York State, and issue nation-wide standards for Global Positioning System (GPS) devices in trucks. Schumer pointed to the shocking regularity with which trucks are striking overpasses after being led onto roads they shouldn’t be on by GPS devices, and noted that no rules govern the use of such devices in commercial vehicles. The absence of standards results in many situations in which trucks use GPS devices that do not differentiate between roads on which trucks are allowed and on which they are not. This leads many truckers onto roads on which it is illegal for them to travel, such as the Saw Mill and Hutchinson River Parkways, where they collide with the low overpasses.  

 

Schumer stood at the bridge on Mamaroneck Road and Hutchinson River Parkway, which has been hit more than 90 times over the past two decades, and according to a 2009 study, 80 percent of bridge strikes are caused by misused GPS devices. The accidents, in addition to being life threatening, cause massive delays and impose significant costs on taxpayers. 

 

“These accidents are frequent, costly, dangerous and entirely avoidable,” said Schumer. “All the information we need to prevent these accidents is available, all we have to do is make sure it gets into the hands of the 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 Westchester.”  

 

Commercial truck traffic is prohibited on New York State Parkways, such as the Hutchinson and Saw Mill Parkways in the Hudson Valley. 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, about 200 bridge accidents per year have occurred in New York since 2005. According to a 2009 DOT study, 80 percent of bridge strikes are caused by misused GPS devices. Schumer noted that these accidents, in addition to being life threatening, cause massive delays and impose significant costs on taxpayers. The Hudson Valley has experienced 855 bridge strikes between 1993 and 2011, with 668 of these crashes occurring in Westchester, which has seen the most incidents of any county in the state.

 

The morning of September 14th, a semi-trailer truck on the Hutchinson Parkway crashed into an overpass. The semi-trailer and its cargo were severely damaged, and the lives of other motorists were threatened. Although trucks such as this one are banned on the parkway because of bridges with clearances as low as 9’9”, this strike is quite common in Westchester. In fact, this particular bridge, the King Street (NY-120A) bridge, is the most commonly hit state bridge in New York.  Between 1993 and mid-2010, it was hit a total of 95 times, for an average of 5.5 times per year. Schumer highlighted that regardless of the precise reason for each crash, an investigation is clearly needed to better safeguard truck drivers, commuters, and Westchester County taxpayers.

 

Schumer today is calling on the Department of Transportation to investigate these low bridge strikes by commercial truck drivers to determine more about their root cause. Schumer is also asking the Department of Transportation to issue nation-wide standards for GPS devices in order to ensure that trucks no longer rely exclusively on GPS units that are not programmed with information that will lead them into dangerous situations. Schumer made the case that new standards on GPS devices would reduce the cost imposed on taxpayers and prevent any deadly accidents from occurring.

 

Hudson Valley:

855 bridge strikes over the last 2 decades

 

Long Island:

2010: 51 reported strikes

2011: 43 reported strikes

 

New York City:

2010: 61 reported strikes

2011: 49 reported strikes

 

A copy of Senator Schumer’s 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 and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 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. 

 

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact my Washington office.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Charles E. Schumer

U.S. Senator

 

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