I-Team: GPS May Be Contributing To Truck Crashes

By WBZ-TV Chief Correspondent Joe Shortsleeve

BOSTON (CBS) – Few things can snarl traffic faster than a truck slamming into a low clearance bridge and the I-Team discovered a device that is supposed to help truckers may actually be contributing to the problem.

It’s a scene that is all too familiar for the folks who live in Westwood. In the past couple of months, at least three trucks have plowed into a low clearance bridge on East Street. Back in July, it was a truckload of lobsters that slammed into the bridge and burst into flames. The bridge carries a commuter rail track so in addition to traffic on the road, the commuter rail service was shut down for hours while crews cleaned up the mess.

It happens all over the state. Traffic was snarled recently in East Boston when the roof of a tractor trailer was ripped off during the morning rush hour. In Amesbury, the top of a truck was sheared off when the driver plowed into the Bailey Memorial Bridge.

This type of crash happens more often than you might think. The I-Team obtained documents from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation showing oversize trucks have slammed into bridges 80 times since 2011. Each crash leads to expensive repairs, but that’s not the worst part according to Transportation Secretary Richard Davey. “Cost impacts are important, but I think the traffic impacts are by far worse,” he said.

Most of these bridges have all kinds of warning signs, but Robert Sinclair of the American Automobile Association says truckers are missing them. He says the result could be much worse than a bunch of people being late for work because of the traffic. “It could injure or kill,” he said.

So why is this happening? Some experts say truckers are using consumer GPS systems like the ones on a smartphone instead of commercial versions designed to route truckers away from low-clearance hazards. “It’s a tough situation that we need to prevent,” Sinclair said.

The Federal Highway Motor Carrier Safety Administration is working on that by launching an awareness campaign. The agency is handing out visor cards warning truckers about the differences between commercial and consumer GPS. But Secretary Davey is not sure that’s enough. “I think education by itself isn’t working,” he said. Davey says mandating the use of commercial GPS programs might be what’s needed. That’s exactly what Senator Charles Schumer of New York wants to see. “80% of low bridge strikes are caused by truckers, who are looking at GPS systems that don’t warn them off the highway, don’t warn them that the bridge is too low,” he said.

For the trucker in the Amesbury crash, neither his GPS nor the signs were enough for him to avoid disaster. “As soon as I made the turn, coming across the bridge, I didn’t see the low bridge sign,” he said.

Send tips for the I-Team to iteam@cbsboston.com

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