Schumer announces new federal steps to reduce GPS-caused bridge strikes

By WBNG News

March 12, 2013 Updated Mar 12, 2013 at 1:23 PM EDT

(WBNG Binghamton) U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer this week 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 will begin issuing official recommendations to members of the commercial trucking industry on the proper uses of Global Positioning System devices and incorporate GPS training into new entry-level certification programs for commercial motor vehicle operators.

According to a news release from Schumer's office:

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. 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 bridge on Mamaroneck Road over Hutchinson River Parkway, which has been hit more than 90 times over the past two decades, and 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.
“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,” said Schumer. “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 the Hudson Valley. 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 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, 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.
Last September, 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.
As a result, Schumer stood in Scarsdale on September 24, 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.

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