Downside of GPS Navigation Systems: Trucks Hitting Bridges

November 3, 2009

Navigation systems using GPS seem to be behind a whole host of bad behavior. They lead BMW drivers to the brink of cliffs, and now they're causing truck drivers in New York State to drive into bridges.

The engineering magazine IEEE Spectrum reports that GPS devices are directing truckers, especially out-of-state drivers unfamiliar with the region, onto limited-access parkways that ban commercial traffic and have bridges too low for modern tractor-trailer rigs.

The New York State Department of Transportation cites more than 1,400 truck-into-bridge accidents over the past 15 years, with the vast majority of them on the Hutchinson River Parkway in crowded Westchester County, just north of New York City. More damning, the NYSDoT says 81 percent of those were due to drivers following GPS directions.

New York State Governor David Patterson recently issued a press release promising renewed enforcement of laws against commercial vehicles on parkways, and the state is also trying to work with 20 GPS and mapping providers to include bridge clearance heights in their data sets.

The coments on the article are worth a read too. Don McCallum suggests anyone using a GPS device while driving should be ticketed; he wants all drivers to plan their routes in advance and commit them to memory.

Two rather more practical suggestions are warning frames at the entrances to on-ramps, with chains to indicate overpass height (from Eusebio Rufian-Zilbermann) and a "commercial truck" overlay option added to consumer GPS devices (from Steve Ouellette).

Meanwhile, we leave you with a special bonus video on the topic of trucks driving into bridges.

[IEEE Spectrum; photo by Flickr user Kim Scarborough]

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