Across the state of New York, over 130 bridges see millions of travelers every year. While our state’s infrastructure needs continuous repairs and renovations to deal with high volumes of traffic, education is also extremely important to keeping our roads safe.

So, let’s talk about bridge strikes, which occur when truck drivers ignore height requirements and recklessly collide with bridges, putting everyone on the road in danger.

What Are Bridge Strikes and How Dangerous Are They?

The term “bridge strikes” refers to when a large vehicle, typically a tractor-trailer or big rig, collides with the underside of a bridge. Most passenger vehicle drivers pay no mind to height warnings when they travel under a bridge, but these warning are particularly important for truck drivers. While there is no federal regulation on how tall a truck can be, the State of New York limits commercial motor vehicles to 13.5 feet in height. The taller a vehicle, the greater the risk of it overturning and causing serious accidents, as well as it striking the underside of a bridge.

Over a 15-year period, over 1,600 bridge strikes occurred across New York State, with 173 occurring in NYC between 2008 and 2009, according to a presentation by the Regional Bridge Strike Task Force. These collisions typically occur at three locations: arch bridges, parkway bridges, and rail bridges. In addition, according to the New York Governor’s Office, there have been over 1,100 bridge strikes from 2015 to 2020 alone.

Bridge strikes not only cause widespread property damage to city infrastructure, they also put other drivers at risk of catastrophic trauma. When a trucker hits a bridge at high speeds, he can lose control and strike nearby vehicles, or shave off parts of the truck (or bridge) that can make it difficult for drivers on or under the bridge to maintain control of their vehicles. Even if the trailer barely scrapes against the bottom of the bridge, the trailer’s frame may be damaged, allowing cargo to spill onto the road and into the path of other vehicles.

What Causes Bridge Strikes?

Drivers should always keep an eye out for bridge height requirements and avoid any route that has low-hanging bridges. In turn, trucking companies should always obey state law regarding tractor-trailer heights and educate drivers on the safest routes. If either a driver or trucking company allowed a bridge strike to occur, then other people who were injured in the accident may be able to pursue personal injury claims against them.

However, there are other factors that contribute to bridge strikes. In part of the Regional Bridge Task Force’s research, investigators noted that certain GPS navigators and common trucking routes did not include information about low-hanging bridges, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) also shares these concerns. As such, truckers may not be fully aware of which routes are safest,  especially out-of-state truckers who do not navigate New York’s roads on a regular basis.

In researching common GPS routes, investigators were able to develop alternative routes and better educate truckers on how to avoid bridge strikes. In addition, state officials were able to identify the most dangerous routes and adjust bridge signs to increase visibility. However, even if a GPS advised a trucker to follow a dangerous route, that does not excuse his behavior, and he can be found liable for causing a bridge strike.

How Bridge Strikes Can Be Prevented

For over a decade now, New York has been aware of the serious dangers posed by bridge strikes. There are many ongoing efforts to prevent these incidents; multi-pronged campaigns that include:

  • Enforcement of state and local traffic ordinances
  • Educational campaigns to remind trucking companies of trailer height requirements
  • Research into the role of GPS in bridge strikes
  • Adjustments to traffic signs for better visibility
  • Installation of reflective material on the front of bridges to warn drivers
  • Investigations of each incident to determine common factors

Eliminating bridge strikes is not an overnight task, but New York State has been tackling this issue for years. In fact, on November 9, 2020, Governor Cuomo announced the completion of the Old State Bridge replacement project in Albany County, which was done to reduce bridge strikes along the thruway. This project also involved increased funding for educational programs and outreach initiatives to inform drivers of the danger. This is just one example of New York’s approach to reducing bridge strikes by redesigning and improving the state’s 133 bridges across its 570-mile system.

Know Your Legal Rights When Bridge Strikes Occur

Bridge strikes can cause untold damage to surrounding vehicles and can seriously injure drivers and pedestrians. If you were injured in a New York bridge strike that was not your fault, do not hesitate to contact the NY truck accident attorneys Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro, Moses & Halperin, LLP. Our NYC law firm has spent more than 50 years representing accident victims after deadly trucking accidents and can advocate for your legal right to compensation. To schedule a free case evaluation, call our office at (212) 986-7353.

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Posted in: Truck Accident