Shortcut too good to be true? GPS focus of training campaign

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 3/13/2013

Truck and bus operators who navigate by GPS should choose systems that show low overpasses and other route restrictions, officials said as part of a safety campaign tied to a future mandate for entry level driver training standards.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration rolled out information on Monday, March 11, which was intended to help truck and bus drivers choose appropriate navigation units for commercial vehicles. FMCSA’s tips on selecting a GPS unit are included in a visor card that truckers can download from the FMCSA site.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, and FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro stood on the Eagle Avenue overpass of the Southern State Parkway in Long Island on Monday – a site of 27 bridge strikes by commercial vehicles – to announce that the agency was attaching GPS standards to a future rule requiring minimum entry level training standards for commercial drivers.

Eight months ago, Congress passed a highway policy and funding bill, MAP-21, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, which, in part, requires the FMCSA to get a final driver training rule in place by Oct. 1, 2013. The agency has not yet disclosed its own internal timeline for meeting the deadline.

OOIDA supports entry level driver training standards to improve highway safety. Association leadership says tying GPS standards to the future rule is revealing.

“While I tend to think the focus on GPS is somewhat laughable as a solution, this does point out just one of a multitude of things drivers need education on before they are turned loose,” OOIDA Vice President Todd Spencer said.

A survey by the OOIDA Foundation in 2012 showed 55 percent of owner-operator truckers had GPS on their trucks, and 33 percent used mapping software to plan their routes. The 2013 edition of the survey identifies the standard trucking atlas as the most popular routing assist, followed by GPS units. A smaller number of truckers said they rely on GPS applications on their phones.

For years, Schumer has pointed the finger at commercial drivers who rely on non-trucking-specific GPS for route navigation, an issue he says has resulted in numerous bridge strikes.

An appropriate GPS unit, Schumer said, would take into account a truck’s height, weight and contents, including hazmat, while routing the driver onto “appropriate roads.” Schumer noted in his comments that it is illegal for large trucks to travel on certain routes, including parkways.

“These steps will help to once again make GPS devices an asset to drivers, and not a dangerously misused tool,” Schumer stated. “I am pleased that the DOT heeded my call for reforms and I am confident that the combination of official recommendations and GPS training will limit the number of low-bridge strikes across Long Island. Thank you to FMCSA Administrator Ferro for recognizing the importance of this serious issue and for implementing a proactive approach towards teaching the industry how to eliminate GPS-related accidents.”

The blame need not fall squarely on the truckers. New York’s system for posting bridge heights at 12 inches lower than their actual heights – except in places where signs indicate “actual” heights – has left many operators of large vehicles guessing. Many choose to err on the side of caution while others choose to avoid parts of the Empire State altogether.

A federal standard would go a long way to correcting problems associated with GPS and bridge strikes, Ferro says.

“Even one truck or bus striking an overpass is one too many, which is why we’re taking action to ensure professional truck and bus drivers know the importance of selecting the right navigation system.”

See related story:
What’s your clearance, Clarence? Truckers navigate tricky New York bridges

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