SCARSDALE, N.Y. – If it seems as if tractor-trailers crash into parkway overpasses every week in Westchester County, that’s because they do.
Kieran O’Leary, spokesperson for the Westchester County police, said that on average, there is a bridge strike once a week on the Hutchinson River, Saw Mill River, Cross County or Bronx River parkways.
There have been 23 such crashes this year, including three into the Mamaroneck Road Bridge on the Hutchinson River Parkway between June 18 and June 30.
O’Leary said the police have found that many of these accidents occur because drivers become too dependent on GPS technology, and don’t pay attention to the clearly marked warnings.
“There are commercial-grade GPS devices, but they are more expensive. As a result, many truckers are relying on their personal GPS devices instead,” he said. “These devices will not tell them that a particular parkway does not permit trucks. Too many drivers are solely relying on these devices and not paying attention to the road signs.”
The 23 crashes through June are about average for years past. Since 2008, there has been only one year (2010, 33) with fewer than 46 bridge strikes. There were 54 in 2009 and 50 last year.
Currently, all parkway entrances have signs saying, “No Trucks” or “Passenger Cars Only,” and there are universal signs warning truck drivers graphically. Inattentive drivers and fatigue often are contributing factors. O’Leary said that because all the parkways except the Bronx River Parkway are owned and maintained by the state, all maintenance and warning signs are the responsibility of the state, not the county.
“The county has been asking New York state to improve the signage at all parkway entrances to try to keep trucks from improperly entering these roadways,” O’Leary said. “The typical truck driver who strikes a bridge in Westchester is from out of state and is unfamiliar with our parkways and the restrictions that exist.”
Westchester County is collaborating with the state, New York City and Connecticut through the creation of a Bridge Strike Mitigation Task Force. The task force will have representatives of the police, the Department of Transportation and other agencies. It also will have representatives from the trucking, insurance and mapping industries.
“The task force is looking at a number of issues such as signage, driver education and technology to try to keep wayward trucks off our parkways,” O’Leary said. “One technology being looked at is a device that can detect over-height vehicles and then trigger a variable message sign that would warn a truck driver to exit immediately.”
The task force has created a pamphlet for truckers, with information about parkways in the metropolitan area and the restrictions that exist on those roads. It’s available at truck stops and is posted on trucking industry websites.
When a tractor-trailer strikes a bridge, it can cause delays on the parkway for up to six hours. If an accident is violent enough, the contents of a trailer may need to be off-loaded before it can be towed. If the vehicle is still functioning, the delays can be minimal.
A tow company removes the truck and damaged trailer, and occasionally there are delays to clean up cargo. Trucking companies assume all costs, sometimes footing bills as high as $25,000.
The county also seeks reimbursement from the trucking firm’s insurance company for costs associated with bridge strikes. On average, $20,000 is recouped each year for the cost of police working the scenes.
“Bridge strikes pose a danger to drivers because the truck is now at a complete standstill on a parkway,” O’Leary said. “We had an incident a few years ago in which a car rear-ended a stopped tractor-trailer. When cargo spills into the roadway, it poses a hazard to other cars.”
The drivers involved in the accidents are issued summonses for having a restricted vehicle on the parkway, exceeding the bridge height limit and disobeying a traffic control device – the signs that read “Passenger Cars Only.”
“A bridge inspector is always alerted and comes to the scene to do an inspection,” O’Leary said. “As one of our now-retired lieutenants used to say, ‘The trucks keep hitting the bridges and the bridges keep winning.’ ”