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FMCSA issues warning about using inappropriate GPS systems

The FMCSA has issued a visor card to alert truckers about the use of an appropriate GPS system. (Courtesy: FMCSA)

By LYNDON FINNEY
The Trucker Staff

3/12/2013

NEW YORK —  The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has formally cautioned commercial vehicle drivers about the use of inappropriate GPS systems.

The FMCSA warning on its website and on a new visor card, was in response to New York Sen. Charles Schumer’s concern about an increasing number of low bridge strikes in his state and his call on the federal government to issue national standards for GPS devices on large trucks.

It's a concern that caused GPS manufacturers to note that most of the strikes were likely the result of a trucker using an automobile GPS.

“It is important to understand that not all navigation systems are the same,” reads the notice on the FMCSA website. “That is why it is critical for truck and bus drivers to use the right navigation system when operating a commercial truck or bus. By using a navigation system that does not provide important route restrictions, such as low bridge overpasses, the shortcut you thought would save you time and fuel may end up costing you more than you bargained for.

“A typical system that a consumer might buy at an electronics or auto parts store may not have software programming to show low bridges, hazmat routes and other information relevant to commercial motor vehicle operators.”

Schumer and FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro stood at the Eagle Avenue overpass, which spans the Southern State Parkway at exit 18, an overpass that has been struck at least 27 times by trucks that are prohibited from driving on the parkway, to make the announcement about the warning.

According to a 2009 study, 80 percent of bridge strikes in New York state are caused by misused GPS devices, and the accidents, in addition to being life threatening, cause massive delays and impose significant costs on taxpayers, Schumer’s office said.

In addition to the warning on the website and new visor card, Schumer said the FMCSA would incorporate GPS training into new entry-level certification programs for commercial motor vehicle operators. The senator said there was more work to be done, but the warning information was a very significant step toward improving safety and reducing these accidents.  GPS training will be proposed as a component of a federal rulemaking for entry-level commercial driver license (CDL) certification later this year.

“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,” Schumer said. “These steps will help to once again make GPS devices an asset to drivers, and not a dangerously misused tool. 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.”

"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," said Ferro.

Last September, Schumer asked the Department of Transportation to conduct a study of what he called a “dramatic increase” in low bridge strikes by commercial trucks across New York state.

In a letter Schumer told Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood: “I know you will be alarmed to learn that GPS-related bridge strikes in New York now represent 80 percent of all such accidents.”

He said police reports on the problem “continue to fault the reliance on basic GPS technology as the main culprit” in many of the accidents.”

Officials at three companies that market commercial truck GPS systems said at the time that is was likely trucks striking bridges were the fault of drivers using consumer GPS systems designed for automobilesor they are not using a GPS at all.

“The problem from our perspective is that truck-specific navigation is very early in terms of its deployment into trucks,” Michael Kornhauser, senior vice president of enterprise solutions at ALK Technologies, said. “A lot of trucks are not using navigation at all, or if they are they are using consumer navigation systems, which will drive them under low bridges all the time. It’s not considering that information [about low bridges]. It will route you like you are driving a Toyota Camry.”

Kendra Ensor, vice president of marketing at Rand McNally, also pointed to the likely use of car GPS systems in commercial trucks.

“GPS devices designed for passenger cars don’t include truck-restricted roads so routing can be dangerous and illegal,” Ensor said. “It’s not only bridge strikes that may occur, but routing onto roads restricted by weight, truck/trailer length, and carriage of certain hazardous materials.”

Adam Kahn, director of marketing at Qualcomm Enterprise Services, also emphasized the importance of using a truck-specific navigation system.

“This latest debate highlights the continued importance of implementing systems specifically designed for the commercial trucking industry with truck-approved routes, as opposed to consumer navigation systems used by drivers of passenger vehicles,” Kahn said. “As a professional truck driver, there are many nuances to consider throughout the course of a trip. For example, it’s harder for trucks to make left turns and drivers must be aware of low bridges, U-turns and narrow roads, just to name a few.”

The visor card gives tips for safe use of navigation systems, and can be downloaded free-of-charge at www.fmcsa.dot.gov. It provides tips on selecting the proper navigation system designed for trucks and buses, and the correct use of the navigation systems.

For example, in order for the navigation system to provide the appropriate route, truck and bus drivers should enter all relevant information such as the vehicle’s length, width and height; axle weight; and hazardous materials being hauled.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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