Sen. Charles E. Schumer Thursday asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to take action to stem a growing problem: truck drivers relying on GPS devices that direct them into low highway overpasses.
Standing near such an overpass at William and Metcalfe streets in Buffalo that has been struck 32 times in the past few years, Schumer said he asked federal officials to set new rules governing the use of GPS devices by commercial truck drivers.
“If we have the technology to send a truck to Mars, then we have the technology to prevent trucks from crashing into bridges,” said Schumer, D-N.Y.
A sign directly behind Schumer on William Street alerted truckers to a 12 foot, two-inch clearance, but Schumer said truckers from out of town frequently are so focused on their GPS directions that they end up ignoring such signs.
The result: New York State has reported more than 200 bridge overpass accidents a year since 2005. And in Western New York, there were 213 such bridge strikes between 1993 and 2011, with 196 of them happening in Erie County.
“The truth is these drivers use GPS, which gives them the route, but guess what: it doesn’t mark how high the bridges are,” Schumer said.
As a result, 80 percent of such bridge strikes in New York State involve the use of GPS devices, Schumer said that’s because while most large trucking companies use GPS devices that steer trucks away from such hazards, many independent truck drivers do not.
In addition to asking the DOT to develop new standards for the use of GPS devices in commercial trucks, Schumer asked the agency to investigate the problem.
Schumer’s suggestions, spelled out in a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, sounded good to James Manno. The vice president of sales and marketing at Sonwil Distribution Center Inc., Manno joined the senator at the press conference.
“This is going to be helpful for the whole industry and the community at large,” Manno said.