October 26, 2009 11:00 AM, EDT
N.Y. Seeks to Require Truck-Specific GPS Following Several Collisions With Bridges

By Michele Fuetsch, Staff Reporter

This article appears in the Oct. 26 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

New York Gov. David Paterson (D) has proposed requiring truck drivers there to use only Global Positioning System devices that are equipped with truck route information to keep them off restricted roads.

The legislation, which was proposed Oct. 14, is intended to keep trucks off restricted roads where they wind up hitting bridges too low for their vehicles to pass under.

In a quest for faster routes, truckers are using automobile GPS devices that do not have truck routes, Paterson said.

“Today, we put an end to bridge strikes by preventing truck drivers from illegally straying onto parkways and other restricted roads,” Paterson said in a press statement.

The governor said there have been 46 bridge strikes this year just in Westchester County, north of New York City.

The bill doesn’t require truckers to use GPS units, merely that if they do, the devices should be specifically for trucks. It also would direct the state Department of Transportation to create an approved list of GPS devices truck drivers could use while traveling New York roads.

Drivers who use nonapproved devices would be fined up to $500, imprisoned for as many as 15 days and have their trucks impounded.

Paterson’s proposal prompted opposition from trucking industry leaders.

“They can’t impose an equipment requirement on out-of-state vehicles,” said Kendra Adams, executive director of the New York State Motor Association. Interstate trucking is regulated by the federal government, she said.

Clayton Boyce, spokesman for American Trucking Associations, said it was unclear if — or how — ATA member firms would be affected if the Paterson proposal became law.

Most trucking companies already use GPS services specifically designed for trucks so they are routed away from restricted roads and around low-clearance dangers, Boyce said.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association issued a statement that said Paterson’s proposed mandate for enhanced GPS devices would unfairly punish the majority of truckers, do nothing to improve safety and ultimately hurt consumers.

“The governor is doing a great job of pushing New York to the top of the list of places where truckers least want to do business,” OOIDA legislative director Mike Joyce said.

Adams and state transportation officials agreed that most of the bridge strikes occur on the state’s pastoral parkway system, which dates to the 1920s and is made up of development-free, shoulderless highways punctuated by low arched brick and stone bridges.

Trucks never have been allowed on the parkway road system, which has signs at all the entrances saying trucks are prohibited.

Skip Carrier, a spokesman for the state DOT, said the parkways were “designed for a different era, for sort of leisurely driving on a Sunday” but are still part of today’s road network and therefore “available for use by people who don’t bother to read the signs and are getting on them and then finding they have a problem.”

Carrier also said the state knows GPS devices are the primary factor in the bridge strikes because the New York State Police did a study.

When the police analyzed the accident records, they found that in 81% of the incidents, when asked why the truck was on the parkway, the driver said the GPS device routed him that way, Carrier said.

Adams is a member of a state committee established early this year to study the growing bridge-strike problem. She said the committee found that the accidents are caused mostly by out-of-state drivers. Truckers located in the state know the parkways are restricted, she said.

Adams also said Paterson surprised the bridge-strike committee by coming up with a proposal before the group had completed its work and made recommendations.

Adams added that she doubted the proposed GPS legislation will pass legal muster because federal interstate commerce rules trump state initiatives.

NYDOT’s Carrier, however, said the governor’s legal team has considered that issue and is still pressing ahead with a proposal it believes would address GPS routing problems.

Industry leaders and Carrier said they didn’t know of any other state trying to mandate truck-specific GPS devices or draw up a list of approved vendors.

If New York were to mandate such a list, however, it would be a boon to GPS manufacturers of truck-specific devices.

ALK Technologies Inc. of Princeton, N.J., would want to be on such a list, said Craig Fiander, the firm’s vice president of marketing for ALK’s PC-Miler routing, mileage and mapping GPS equipment.

Since the Paterson press conference and subsequent news stories, Fiander said, “We are certainly receiving an influx of e-mails from internal people, from customers, from partners, and we’re interested in, of course, supporting and addressing the issue in any way that we can.”

Rand McNally CEO Dave Muscatel said that his firm “will pursue including IntelliRoute TND, a truck-specific GPS, on the approved list for the State of New York if this law is enacted.”

Truck- and car-specific GPS devices can range in price anywhere from $100 to $500, Adams said. And as Fiander pointed out, technology is advancing so quickly that GPS services can even be purchased for cell phones.