According to the Federal Highway Administration, the third-leading cause of bridge failure or collapse is damage due to a vehicle or a vessel collision. Bridge-strike accidents involving large trucks occur on average more than once per day throughout the United States.
Bridges in New York State alone experience nearly 200 strikes annually. In Durham, North Carolina, there is an infamous bridge nicknamed “the can-opener bridge” that has averaged one truck collision per month since 2008. This bridge gets hit so often that a website was created exclusively to show the videos that capture these truck collisions.
There are many reasons that these types of accidents occur. The most common involve driver inattention, lack of route planning, inaccurate directions, and use of a GPS navigation system that is not intended for use by truck drivers. To make the problem worse, while some states post the actual clearance on bridge warning signs, other states underreport the clearance on bridge warning signs by up to 12 inches. For example, New York State bridges that have vertical clearances of less than 14 feet are routinely posted 12 inches under that clearance. This may have a negative effect on truckers since they may ignore clearance signs if they are aware that the state underreports the clearance.
In one research brief, researchers who interviewed truck drivers who had been involved in bridge-strike accidents found that 32% of them did not know the height of their vehicle and 56% rarely or never took into account low bridges during their route planning. Professional truck drivers should always know the height of their truck and trailer. Drivers should always be vigilant to low-clearance warning signs and aware that paving and packed snow on roadways may reduce that clearance. The weight of cargo may also impact the height of the trailer; a trailer may fit under a bridge when it is fully loaded but may not fit when it is empty. Whenever the posted clearance height is close to the marked height of a driver’s truck and trailer, extra caution should be used.
Bridge strikes by truck drivers are preventable. Drivers need only to follow good route planning procedures and stay attentive.
The following are some route planning tips that should be considered by all truck drivers:
Always remember… safety first!