Turn Right Here Left

by Michael Brown

While GPS has become an exceptionally useful tool for truckers, like any technology it can have its downsides, particularly if it’s not used properly.

Here are some statistics and information to steer you in the right direction. 

In New York City, approximately 200 trucks hit bridges every year. About 80 percent of those are caused by trucks being misled by GPS. The overpasses are simply too low for a truckload. The result: usually a loud screeching noise, an accordion-shaped trailer, a traffic jam and a bill for repair.

The New York State Troopers started collecting data about GPS and bridge strikes and in a 2011 study from the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), they found that from 40 incidents, GPS was the cause of 90 percent of the strikes.

Apparently trucks from out of state are most likely to get into these accidents because they aren’t familiar with highway infrastructure — such as New York’s parkways, which are meant for car traffic only, with some bridge clearances of only six feet 11 inches.

New York senator Charles Schumer has been a frequent advocate of legislation to help combat the GPS bridge strikes and in March he received support from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Schumer and the FMCSA proposed GPS-specific training given to drivers seeking their commercial driver’s license.

“These education and training campaigns for 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 with increasing frequency in recent years,” said Schumer. “These steps will help to once again make GPS devices an asset to drivers, and not a dangerously misused tool.”

Rand McNally, a truck and consumer-grade GPS manufacturer, has also been working closely with Schumer and the FMCSA.

“With FMCSA we have been working on an initiative to educate drivers. [FMCSA is] passing out driver advisor cards that tell the differences between the two types of products and encourage drivers to use the right tool for the job,” says Amy Krouse, director of public relations for Rand McNally.

“Our whole push is just educate the drivers, because once they are educated, they really see the value of the additional cost of the truck-specific GPS.”

Dave Marsh, Rand McNally’s vice president of research and development, mentions a survey that asked drivers what type of GPS they were using. “The percentage of drivers who said they use a truck GPS — if you multiplied that out — it would be many times more than the number of truck GPS units ever sold,” he says. “So there are a lot of drivers that clearly aren’t using truck GPS, but don’t want to admit it.”

DIRECTIONALLY CHALLENGED: On the way to his Today’s Trucking interview, journalist Michael Brown’s employment efforts almost got thwarted by wonky GPS info.

As the NYSDOT study points out, many of the GPS units aren’t just labeled specifically for cars; they’re labeled as “ general purpose.” So to prevent yourself from an accident, make sure that any GPS system you’re using is specifically meant for trucks, otherwise you could end up with an accordion that unfortunately doesn’t play music.

“I think in the last few years there’s been an increased prevalence of truck-specific devices on the market,” says Kamrin Clifford, senior product line manager, North American map content for TomTom International, a GPS manufacturer. “The real focus today should be upon truck drivers shifting towards using these types of devices and discontinuing the use of GPS devices typically intended for passenger vehicles.”

TomTom offers GPS units just for trucks, taking into consideration, height, width and weight requirements to get you where you need to be.

“We do everything in our power to maintain our data content to include every restriction that’s known about trucks and our data today is quite complete,” says Clifford. “Where we’re currently continuing to develop content is at the last mile — when you’ve exited the freeways, exited the arterial routes, and you’re traversing regular surface streets — this is where a lot of these dangers exist.”

And hey, you could also have Homer Simpson or Mr. T be the voice of your navigation, so that’s pretty cool.

Rand McNally is also looking at constant improvements it can make to its truck-specific GPS units. “What the drivers still want to see is ‘Why did you reroute me on that route?’ What they want us to do is to say, ‘You’re on Route 30 because on Route 18 — which may be the more direct route — there is a bridge that would not allow your size of vehicle.’ That’s information [drivers] want to see and we’re considering that,” says Krouse. 

While there are many advantages of using a GPS, Patrick Aalbers, TomTom’s marketing director business solutions, does offer a word of caution: “Roads change constantly and we’re confident that we’re doing a really good job, but maps are never as up to date as they can be in real life.”

“It’s a combination of having the right device, and still focusing on the responsibility to obey road signs and be cautious that a map could be out of date.”

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