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  • Are Commercial Drivers Really Hitting Bridges?

    Years ago, I was up in New York moving furniture for Mayflower when we came to an old black Railroad bridge that looked pretty low. The area was relatively descriptive, as the building on our right side, was an older red brick factory with many of the windows stoned out. I am sure that all of you older drivers are very familiar with the type of building I am referring too. Naturally, Jim, who was driving at the time, slowed down and very carefully drove under the bridge. The road turned right on the other side of the bridge and then turned right again, to what looked to bring us back, to the same bridge with the same old red brick factory on the right. Stoned out windows and all.

    Jim slowed at first, then thinking it was the same bridge, gave it the gas. Something was not right, though, so I yelled out "STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP". Jim thought I was nuts, but he did stop about 20 yards from the bridge and asked me what the devil I was yelling to stop for. I explained that we made a right, then another right, which meant that we were traveling in the opposite directly, so it could not be the same bridge. Jim pulled up to the bridge and it was obvious that, had he not stopped, he would have taken the top off the truck.

    I couldn't help but wonder, if people actually did hit bridges. I had never really thought about it before. In fact, it did not seem to be real to me. My experience of course was eye opening and it was very obvious that bridges do get hit by drivers. But how many? How many drivers do actually hit bridges and what are the reasons. Tired? Careless? Drunk? Distracted? Jim was none of these, yet had I not yelled in time, he would have hit that bridge.

    Being well educated, I realize that, statistically, people are 3 sigma. We all make mistakes. On average, 45,000 mistakes for every 1 million chances to make those mistakes. That means, some drivers are definitely going to hit some bridges. The question of course, is still, how many and, what are the causes?

    I recently read an article that included a letter from New York state Senator Charles Ellis "Chuck" Schumer to U.S. Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood. Representative Schumer stated several eye opening facts on bridge strikes in New York. Two in particular stood out. The first was that, according to a recent NYSDOT study, about 200 bridge accidents have occurred in New York State alone, every year, since 2005. That adds to approximately 1,600 bridge strikes, just in New York. The second was that 80% of these were attributed to the reliance on basic GPS system. Many were on roads that were very clearly marked as off-limits to Commercial Trucks.

    Naturally I wanted to know what the stats were for the entire US, but when I looked, the data was not readily available. I sent a letter to the DOT requesting the information and should they respond, I will do a follow up article. In the meantime I think we can take a lesson from Jim and perhaps prevent our own bridge strike.

    Jim almost hit that bridge because of 2 reasons. The first was that Jim relied on faulty data. The second was that Jim failed to manage risk. These 2 reasons together can cause us all a significant amount of problems. Jim relied on data that was wrong. i.e. He thought it was the same bridge that he had previously gone under. This can happen and will happen to all of us at one time or another. Faulty data is part of the human experience. It is something that we must not only live with, but we must find a way to keep it from causing us serious problems. And that is where managing risk comes in.

    Had Jim practiced Risk management, he would have taken it slow regardless of the data. After all, what harm could there possibly be by driving slowly under the bridge, or stopping up next to it, to assess the height? It basically would be a win/no loss. By picking up speed, it turns a win/no loss into a possible win/loss situation. Moving slowly, he can either get under the bridge safely (win), or stop before any damage occurs from hitting it (no loss). Moving fast, he can either get under the bridge safely (win), or hit it causing damage (loss).

    There is something freeing about "getting away with something". It gives us a sense of invulnerability and makes us feel good when we "toss caution to the wind". But as professional drivers, we cannot afford to let our guard down. We must learn to enjoy the feeling without actually taking the risk. The same holds true for using a GPS. Those of us who will allow that "Feeling of Freedom" to guide our actions will almost certainly end up in trouble sooner or later. Those who use the GPS as a helpful tool, yet maintain full responsibility will surely get into far les trouble. But isn't that the way, all of life is?

    By Frank J. Oddo
    RoadTrucker Inc
    Copyright © 2012 RoadTrucker®.com Inc
    Comments 6 Comments
    1. FunTruckin's Avatar
      FunTruckin -
      Nice article, Admin. Will there be any more? You got me convinced to get a gps for trucks. I've been using a garmin for my car and did not realize that they make em just for trucks. Any recomendations? thanx.
    1. Admin's Avatar
      Admin -
      Thanks Fun.. RoadTrucker carries several truck GPS. i.e. Rand McNally, Cobra, PC*Miler, Garmin, Magellan and we have been asked to take another look at the Teletype, which we took off the website because of a freezing problem they had.

      If you would like to do a little of your own research, I recommend that you start at the following webpage. Just click on the individual photos for more details, videos and downloadable manuals, for each GPS.

      As far as RoadTrucker's recommendation, we feel that the Rand McNally offers the most to Truckers. They also have an outstanding GPS for RV. Rand had been doing maps since 1875? (not sure, 18 something) and they were the first to come out with driver timers, downloadable state mileage records, and a lot of others nice features. Their old 700 had a few issues, but the new TND720 seems to be doing extremely well. Probably because of the communication mechanism they have making it easy for drivers to feedback any errors they might find.
    1. monding's Avatar
      monding -
      I agree with you Admin. Rand is clearly the best gps ever. And Rand's first map was created in December of 1872, not 1875.
    1. Admin's Avatar
      Admin -
      Thanks for taking the time to correct that erroneous data, monding
    1. Snowpony's Avatar
      Snowpony -
      Hi Y'all,
      Great article! I just bought the new Dezl 760 I think, it is AWESOME! It has a lot of great features and a really big screen so it isn't distracting trying to read it. It beeps whenever the speed limit is about to change, maps update all the time, prints out HOS and state mileage, driving speeds of the trip, everything! I love it. But I also agree that slowing down and assessing risks is essential. Gizmos and ******s are great tools but should never ever replace the human brain! Keep it safe Y'all,
    1. KryptoniteDragon's Avatar
      KryptoniteDragon -
      No offense but I must say that Garmins have been very unreliable and have broken repeatedly. I've been through a half dozen of them in the last 5 years and I'm completely done with that company. Lately believe it or not I have relied more heavily on my mobile ***** to navigate (I know I know). Not a very good device overall but it has done the job and I haven't had to replace it for it breaking after a few months. Even the street details have been correct more than the Garmin seemed to show for out of the way places. Now if only I didn't lose reception (and therefore vocal course updates) so often and have to rely on reading the directions page.
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