200.  That’s how many bridge strikes occur in NY state alone.  At least 2 trucks hit the Onondaga Parkway Bridge in upstate NY every year, despite 13 separate signs detailing the 10′ 9″ clearance, and a NYS Department of Transportation ban on truck traffic on that route.  In 2010, one of those strikes was responsible for 4 deaths and over 2 dozen injuries.  How does this keep happening?  One clear answer is the inappropriate use of GPS navigational devices by commercial vehicle operators.

In fact, 80% of bridge strikes by commercial vehicles in New York State have been attributed to the use of passenger vehicle-based GPS devices.  In an effort to alter this trend, the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) and New York State Senator Charles Schumer have instituted a major campaign to increase driver education and understanding of the risks of using the wrong GPS devices to determine truck routes.

Senator Schumer, a long-time advocate of safe driving and sponsor of distracted driving legislation, has pushed hard for the Federal Department of Transportation to examine this issue and to determine methods to mitigate the damage to property as well as the safety risks involved. Although the originally focused on creating legislation limiting and carefully regulating the use of GPS navigation tools, he has now partnered with the FMCSA to develop recommendations and educational programs on the proper use of the technology.

As a result, the FMCSA has begun issuing official recommendations on the proper use of GPS devices in freight vehicle routing.  As part of the new CDL rules required by the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), specific training in the appropriate use of GPS navigation tools has been proposed as a requirement for all new entry-level certification programs for commercial motor vehicle operators.

Ongoing commercial driver education will also train and remind drivers to only use GPS systems designed specifically for the industry.  These specialized applications take into account the specifics of the truck they’re in, including the height, weight and contents, and will route the trucks onto safe, appropriate roads. The GPS applications available to consumers focus on passenger vehicles only and frequently route trucks onto unsafe or restricted routes, causing them to crash into low overpasses and bridges.

Multiple education and awareness programs have also been developed, both by the industry and the FMCSA.  In partnership with Senator Schumer, a visor card has been designed and distributed reminding drivers of key items to keep in mind when using GPS navigation technology, including: a) use of commercial vehicle-specific technology only, and keeping any software up to date; b) avoiding distracted driving scenarios where the driver is more focused on the device than their driving, and c) ensuring that the driver has entered in all the relevant vehicle information into the system (height, weight) prior to travel so that the suggested routes are appropriate for that specific vehicle. The American Trucking Research Institute (ATRI) and the American Trucking Association (ATA) have also conducted major research studies on this issue as well as developing multiple education and outreach efforts to increase awareness of this issue.

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