Having a GPS device in your cab may no longer be enough if you drive in New York State. In an effort to reduce bridge strikes, Gov. David A. Paterson (D) and Westchester County executive Andrew J. Spano have proposed legislation to require truckers to use enhanced GPS devices.
“Bridge strikes are a critical public safety issue, as they endanger lives, eat up taxpayer dollars and add unnecessary stress to our daily commutes,” Gov. Paterson said. “Today, we put an end to bridge strikes by preventing truck drivers from illegally straying onto parkways and other restricted roads. This legislation will ensure that our roads and bridges are safer for New Yorkers so that we can divert money currently spent on clean up costs to schools, hospitals and social services for our neediest citizens.”
The New York State Dept. of Transportation (NYSDOT) said it has recorded over 1,400 bridge strikes in the past 15 years, including 46 in Westchester County so far this year, Spano said. Reducing those can save the state money in repairs and carriers money in repairs, the state said. Many GPS devices direct truckers onto roads that are off-limits to trucks by law or have low clearances. According to NYSDOT, 81% of overpass strikes by commercial vehicles are caused by outdated GPS units.
But, the solution is not GPS mandates, but education, said the OwnerOperator Independent Drivers Assn. (OOIDA). “It’s yet another case of New York using truckers as punching bags,” said OOIDA legislative director Mike Joyce. “The number of bridge strikes compared to the millions of truck miles traveled there doesn’t add up to a need for all trucks to use any type of GPS just to avoid that type of incident. This heavy-handed scheme comes on the heels of recent tax, fee and proposed route restrictions for commercial vehicles. The governor is doing a great job of pushing New York to the top of the list of places where truckers least want to do business. Hopefully, that is not his goal – to drive the economic development out of New York.”
OOIDA argues that the lack of driver training and allowing new drivers to rely on technology are the real reason for bridge strikes, suggesting that the state should instead review the safety of all bridges and their clearances, ensure restricted routes are clearly marked and provide education to drivers about the importance of reading road signs.
“Drivers are already being forced off a number of routes in New York which will mean more fuel will be used, which will ultimately mean more cost to consumers,” Joyce said. “These types of efforts in New York will cause quality trucking jobs to go elsewhere as well as raise costs to consumers throughout the state.”
In addition to the proposed GPS enhancement, the legislation would increase penalties for truckers who illegally use parkways; allow the confiscation of trucks stopped and ticketed by the on-scene officers; and allow state and local municipalities to recoup many of the costs associated with bridge strikes from the trucking companies or their insurance provider.
The state has formed a bridge strike task force which has already recommended an enforcement blitz, which Westchester County began last month. According to NYSDOT, 400 tickets have been issued so far to commercial drivers for illegally operating their vehicles on banned roads with most of those tickets issued to out-of-state drivers using non-commercial GPS devices.
Additionally, the task force has recommended a number of pilot programs to test both low- and high-tech ways to warn drivers of upcoming bridges or road closures, such as moving warning signs further up the road and using infrared beams to detect a truck approaching a road it should not be entering.
NYSDOT and the State Police have entered discussions with the National Insurance Crime Bureau about the possibility of insurance discounts for truckers using upgraded GPS devices with truck routing information.